Today’s pick from Bill and Hillary’s greatest hits of scandals is “Pardongate.” As with most of the Clinton scandals there is alleged corruption and bribery, and the never ending hypocrisy so many of us have come to dislike. At the very least, there’s the ever rampant conflict of interests that seems to be at the highest whenever one of the Clinton’s is in need of money for a soon upcoming election campaign.
One the many privileges given to a United States President, is the ability to grant pardons for those convicted of federal crimes. This power granted by Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except for cases of impeachment…” The U.S. Supreme Court reads this as giving the President the power to grant pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites, and amnesties. Those wishing for a pardon are usually referred to the President by an official from the Department of Justice known as Office of the Pardon Attorney. However, clemency can be given without a formal request, not been convicted or charged with a crime, and without the recipient wanting to be pardoned. The amount of pardons granted varies for each administration. The pardons, commutations, or rescinded convictions for recent presidents are as followed; President Carter 566, President Reagan 406, President George H.W. Bush 77, President Clinton 459, President George W. Bush 200, and President Obama totaling a mere 70 thus far. Each president will have their reasons for why they grant, or deny, each request before them, and often times a pardon will cause some controversy, however this has seldom been the case more so than with President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary.
Most presidents will grant pardons all throughout their term. Which is what makes President Clinton unusual for granting nearly a third of his 459 total pardons, on January 20, 2001, his last day in office. This, as well as the belief the Clintons were selling pardons, is what caught the attention of Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the House Reform Committee, causing an investigation by each into what was nicknamed Pardongate. The case most damning to the Clinton’s was the pardon of Marc Rich. Rich and his partner Pincus Green pled guilty to 78 felony counts and underreporting taxes by almost 50 million dollars. The pair were indicted on 51 counts of illegal activity that included racketeering and tax evasion, as well as trading with the enemy – Iran, during the hostage crisis. Rich then became a fugitive when he fled the country, taking documents with him. He had been on the FBI’s wanted list since 1983, until Rich’s ex-wife Denise donated more than $1 million dollars to the Clintons, plus $450,000 to the Clinton’s presidential library, which is presumably the inspiration for Rich’s pardon.
Susan McDougal was pardoned after serving 18 months for her part in Whitewater. When she refused to testify about the Clinton’s involvement in the scandal she was held on a contempt of court charge. Many have suspected Clinton’s pardon was his way of paying her back for keeping the Clintons’ involvement in Whitewater a secret.
Melvin Reynolds was a Democratic congressman from Illinois who was serving time for sexual assault, obstruction of justice, and solicitation of child pornography. Close to the end of his 5 year sentence he was then convicted of bank fraud, adding 78 months to the time he had left. Clinton commuted the 78 months, and made it possible for Reynolds to finish his 5 year sentence in a halfway house.
Harvey Weinig was a lawyer in Manhattan who was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months after pleading guilty to laundering $19 million dollars from the sale of illegal drugs. Weinig was also related to a White House staffer. After serving almost 6 years, Clinton commuted his sentence. This isn’t the only drug charge Clinton had pardoned. He also pardoned his half brother Roger Clinton, for drug charges he had served his sentence for a decade earlier. When Bill Clinton wrote a letter in the New York Times explaining his controversial pardons he stated that “Some had been sentenced pursuant to mandatory-sentencing drug laws, and I felt they had served long enough…” What is so hypocritical about his statement is his responsibility for the extremely high incarceration rates today, thanks to his crime bill in 1994.
Hillary’s brother, Hugh Rodham, was claiming to have influence over pardons granted by the President and was accepting payment for this access. Two such cases were for drug kingpin Carlos Vignali, and convicted swindler Glenn Braswell. Rodham was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from each of them before they were granted pardons. Rodham had also received $107,000 from Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory who were convicted of bank fraud in 1982, after he successfully lobbied the President on their behalf. The Gregorys had already served their sentences, but they were unable to conduct business in several states due to their past convictions.
Lastly there is FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation). Clinton gave pardons to 16 members of this fringe Puerto Rican terrorist group that was known for setting off over 100 bombs while fighting for independence from the U.S., and subsequently killing 6 Americans, including law enforcement, and injuring dozens more in the process. This pardons are said to have been granted in exchange for votes and support for Hillary Clinton while running for a senate seat in NYS. The time line goes like this, efforts were made to achieve these pardons by sympathizers starting in 1993. One such sympathizer, Luis Falcon, began contacting people with close ties to Hillary, including Maria Echaveste. In early 1999, just after Hillary announced her senate campaign, Maria began emailing with Falcon, and efforts were quickly made to get these pardons underway. In August, Hillary met with New York councilman Jose Rivera. Rivera stated to the New Republic that he “personally presented Hillary with a packet on clemency”, and that he gave her a letter asking that she “speak to the president and ask him to consider clemency.” In September, 16 terrorists were about to receive their pardons on the condition they renounce their violent crimes, but had been refusing to do so for close to three weeks. Hillary had been a supporter of the pardons until after 3 weeks of this refusal. On September 4 she then came out and stated she believed the offer should be withdrawn. This statement angered many Hispanic politicians through out NYS, and they threatened to withdraw their support for her senate campaign. 14 of the 16 terrorists finally agreed to renounce their crimes and accepted the pardons on September 7th. On September 8 Hillary claims to have never been consulted on the pardons, and had no forehand knowledge of the President’s intended actions. Two days later on September 10, she tells the World of Woman Leaders, a group of about 300 Black, Hispanic, and Asian women, that her decision to oppose the clemency was a bit hasty and that “the consultation process was not what it should have been and that will never happen again.” This would now be Hillary’s third position on the issue, as well as about as many lies. The FALN pardons angered almost every law enforcement agency, as well as many politicians. Congress decided to investigate these pardons but were stopped short in their attempts when Bill claimed executive privilege, thus preventing anyone involved with the pardons to testify about any details surrounding the issue. His order remains in effect today, which is why this investigation, as well as the others, have not been able to conclude any wrong doing.