Government closes probe into Clinton's clemency orders

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Federal prosecutors closed their investigation Thursday into whether former President Clinton's grant of clemency to four swindlers was political payback arranged by his wife, now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

U.S. Attorney James B. Comey said in a statement that his office had ended its investigation with no charges filed. He gave no reason.

The case involved four men convicted of bilking the government out of tens of millions of dollars. All four lived in New Square, a Hasidic Jewish village outside New York City that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton during her Senate bid two years ago. President Clinton later shortened their sentences just before he left office.

Hillary Clinton has said she played no part in her husband's decision.

"There was never any reason to believe anybody had done anything wrong, even in the first place," the former president said Tuesday. "So I'm not surprised. I think the facts speak for themselves."

On Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton declined to comment.

Comey said investigations continue into other pardons Clinton issued just before leaving office, including that of commodities broker Marc Rich, and into allegations that Clinton's brother, Roger, received up to $200,000 for promising to help a Texas man win a pardon.

Hillary Clinton remains of interest to prosecutors looking into the Rich pardon.

Rich was indicted in 1983 on charges he evaded more than $48 million in taxes and illegally bought oil from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. He left the United States before he was indicted and settled in Switzerland.

Rich's ex-wife, Denise, is a major contributor to the Democratic Party and donated to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. Ms. Rich has denied the pardon was tied to her contributions.

The pardon was among 176 pardons and clemencies Clinton issued on his last day in office.

In the New Square case, federal prosecutors said the four men had used government aid intended for housing, education and business to enrich themselves and their community. They were convicted in 1999.

During her Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton traveled to New Square and met the Hasidic community's grand rabbi. Many Hasidic communities tend to vote in blocs, and because of that, politicians aggressively court their leaders. On Election Day, she received 1,400 of New Square's 1,412 votes.

Hillary Clinton has said she did not discuss the men's fate with Hasidic leaders before the election. But she said she sat in on a White House meeting a month later with supporters of clemency for the defendants, Kalmen Stern, David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger and Jacob Elbaum.

A month later, the original sentences of between 2 1/2 years and 6 1/2 years were reduced by the president to two to 2 1/2 years.

Another defendant, Chaim Berger, 76, was sentenced last month to six years in prison and ordered to repay $11.6 million. He had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud.

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