Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Clinton Pardoned Mark Rich

I never paid much attention to the Mark Rick controversy. All presidents pardon sleaze balls in the waning moments of their presidency, and I always assumed this was just another. The reports that there was monetary tit-for-tat was in keeping with the Clinton reputation.

The Mark Rich pardon is relevant today because of the Eric Holder Attorney General nomination and his role in the pardon. But it turns out there were international political reasons why Rich was pardoned and why the normal process was bypassed in his case: Rich was a key factor in Clinton's desperate attempt to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement by the end of his term.

Joe Conason writes about it at Salon:

But Holder understood that there were deeper reasons why the pardon was likely to be approved, which had nothing to do with the political and charitable contributions of Rich's ex-wife, the Manhattan socialite Denise Rich. The New York Times offered just a hint in a front-page story that appeared shortly after the Holder nomination was announced. Only at the very end did the Times mention the pressure from "the Israelis" that had persuaded Holder not to oppose the pardon...

Winning the pardon was a top priority for Israeli officials because Rich had long been a financial and intelligence asset of the Jewish state, carrying out missions in many hostile countries where he did business.
According to Conason, Holder did not defend his acquiesence (Clinton didn't need Holder's permission) so as not to bring up the foreign policy implications that heavily influenced his decision at the time. This was apparently the Obama transition team's strategy to get Holder through the Senate confirmation hearings relatively "unscathed."