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The BBC's Rob Watson
"The three close aides portrayed a chaotic image of Mr Clinton's last few hours and days in the White House"
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The BBC's Rob Watson
"It's hard to find a Democrat in Washington who will defend Mr Clinton"
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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 10:22 GMT
Clinton aides opposed pardon
From left: Beth Nolan, Bruce Lindsay and John Podesta
The atmosphere at the hearing was tense
Former aides to Bill Clinton have said they strongly opposed his decision to pardon the fugitive billionaire Marc Rich and thought it would never happen.

The aides - John Podesta, Beth Nolan and Bruce Lindsey - were appearing before a congressional committee holding hearings into Mr Clinton's controversial pardons just before he left office in January.

We were inundated with pardon requests...from members of Congress, movie stars, newscasters, former presidents, former first ladies

Beth Nolan, former White House counsel
They said international lobbying on behalf of Mr Rich, including a call from the then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, seemed to sway Mr Clinton.

But they insisted Mr Clinton pardoned Mr Rich on the merits of the case and did nothing illegal.

Republicans have suggested that Mr Clinton granted the pardon to repay Mr Rich's ex-wife, Denise, for her donations to Democratic party funds and to Mr Clinton's presidential library.

The ex-president denies any wrongdoing.

Flood of appeals

The BBC Washington correspondent Rob Watson says the atmosphere at the congressional hearings was tense, resembling the bitter days of Mr Clinton's impeachment struggle.

Bill Clinton
Clinton: Unprecedented pardons in the last days of his presidency
The three Clinton aides described how requests for pardons flooded into the president's office in the final days of his administration.

"We were really inundated with pardon requests...from members of Congress, movie stars, newscasters, former presidents, former first ladies," said White House counsel Beth Nolan.

She said that, by Christmas, she felt there were already too many requests to consider them all fully.

The aides said they strongly disagreed with the pardon of Mr Rich and had tried to persuade Mr Clinton not to grant it.

Former White House chief of staff John Podesta
John Podesta: "Clinton did nothing wrong"

Former chief of staff John Podesta said that, right up to the last moment, they thought Mr Clinton would reject the multitude of appeals for Mr Rich.

But he said the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, had urged the financier's pardon in a farewell telephone call to Mr Clinton.

When the aides met the president afterwards, it was clear the conversation had been influential, Mr Podesta told the committee.

"It certainly seemed [Mr Clinton] was not going to grant [the pardon], and then that Mr Barak's phone call had been significant," said Beth Nolan.

Despite their strong objections to pardoning Mr Rich, the three aides all agreed Mr Clinton had not been persuaded by political donations.

"There were no discussions in any meeting that I attended with the president in which contributions or the library was discussed, in which the Democratic National Committee contributions were discussed, where contributions to Mrs Clinton's campaign were discussed, not in any meeting," said Mr Lindsey, a Clinton advisor.

Marc Rich
Fugitive: Marc Rich

Beth Dozoretz, the former finance chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, refused to testify before the hearing, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Denise Rich has also declined to answer questions before the committee. She donated more than $1m to Democratic party causes, including Hillary Clinton's successful campaign to be elected to the Senate.

Comparison of pardon numbers over time by Presidents Reagan and Clinton
The House inquiry is one of two congressional investigations into Mr Clinton's pardons. A US attorney is carrying out a separate criminal inquiry.

New York state tax officials have said they are seeking $137m in back taxes, penalties and interest from Mr Rich.

Mr Rich has said that the original indictment against him was wrong and that Mr Clinton's pardon remedied an injustice.

He was charged with evading $48m in tax - the biggest case of its kind in US history.

He was also indicted for fraud and breaching sanctions against Iran.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Americas
Carter blasts Rich pardon
18 Feb 01 | Americas
Clinton defends controversial pardon
15 Feb 01 | Americas
Clinton faces criminal inquiry
14 Feb 01 | Americas
Senate probes Clinton pardons
26 Jan 01 | Americas
Clinton gifts under scrutiny
22 Feb 01 | Americas
Clinton pardons: Cast of characters
24 Feb 01 | Americas
Hillary dragged into pardons inquiry
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