ne of the few
defenses Democrats have mounted for Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc
Rich is that over the
the fugitive tax-evader was represented by Republicans as well as
Democrats. The fact that people from both parties have at one time
or another championed Rich's cause proves, according to some Democrats,
that the pardon was not a corrupt act on Clinton's part but rather
an act of questionable judgment based on legal positions that have
been put forth by a bipartisan group of attorneys. The Republican
that Clinton's defenders point to most often is Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, who represented Rich for several years and is now vice president
Dick Cheney's chief of staff.
Clinton himself has adopted the Libby-GOP defense in the few statements
he has made on the matter. "I mean, [Rich] had three big-time Republican
lawyers, including Dick Cheney's chief of staff," the former president
told Geraldo Rivera on Thursday. "Marc Rich himself is a Republican."
Now it appears the world will get a chance to hear from Libby. Late
Friday, Henry Waxman, ranking minority member of the House Government
Reform Committee, sent a letter to chairman Dan Burton requesting
that Libby be called to testify at the committee's March 1 hearing
on the Rich pardon. Former White House chief of staff John Podesta,
former White House counsel Beth Nolan, and Clinton confidante Bruce
Lindsey have already been subpoenaed to appear.
The Democrats' strategy is this: During the first round of pardon
hearings on February 8, most committee members, regardless of party,
found the defense of Rich made by former White House counsel Jack
Quinn to be simply preposterous. The sheer silliness of Quinn's
case tended to underscore the idea that the Rich pardon had no foundation
in law and was therefore plausibly the result of a shady deal between
Clinton and Rich. Democrats were left with no defenses. Now they
hope to show that other attorneys, not connected to Bill Clinton,
advocated similar points of view in the past, suggesting that there
was a legitimate legal basis for the pardon. That would allow them
to argue that Clinton's decision was an act of bad judgment
few want to defend that but not of wrongdoing.
"[Libby] took positions similar to those that Mr. Quinn articulated
to the committee regarding the Rich case," Waxman wrote in his letter
to Burton. "Given your stated intent of conducting a thorough inquiry
into the Rich matter...it would be appropriate to require testimony
and records from Mr. Libby."
The strategy is a gamble for Democrats. So far, the only document
that has been released relating to Libby's representation of Rich
is an October 6, 1999 memo from Libby to the "M Rich Team" about
Rich's efforts to persuade the U.S. Attorney's office in New York
to drop its requirement that he come home before any plea-bargain
negotiations could take place. The memo listed a number of cases
in which the Justice Department reportedly negotiated with domestic
or international fugitives. "These cases may prove helpful if we
wish to argue that the United States government should forego the
[New York office's] 'policy' of not negotiating with fugitives,"
But arguing that Rich should have the chance to negotiate a plea
is far different than arguing he should be pardoned without any
adjudication of the case. And that is the problem Democrats will
face when they question Libby. "We don't know what his position
on the pardon is," says a Democratic staffer. "Libby becomes relevant
because of his view on the underlying theory." But if Libby testifies
that he never supported seeking a pardon for Rich and does not agree
with Clinton's decision to grant one, committee Democrats will find
themselves right where they started without a defense.
So far, Libby has not made any public statement about the pardon.
But it is nearly a sure thing that he'll be testifying on March
1, because Republicans committee chairman Dan Burton is said to
be inclined to honor Waxman's request. "I don't see the chairman
saying no, because it would look kind of hypocritical," says a Republican
source. "Apparently, [Libby] was just trying to talk to the Southern
District of New York and get negotiations going with them." If that's
all there is to it, Democrats will again find themselves on the
losing end of the Marc Rich issue.