Washington During his final days in office, former President Clinton told then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak he was considering granting a pardon to billionaire fugitive Marc Rich but suggested the act would generate controversy, according to transcripts of their phone calls.
"I know quite a few things about that. I just got a long memo and am working on it," Clinton was quoted as saying to Barak in a Jan. 8 conversation. "It's best that we not say much about that."
Clinton and Barak held at least three conversations on the topic, according to transcripts released by a House committee investigating the pardon.
Rich fled the United States in 1983 rather than face racketeering and other criminal charges. He was pardoned by Clinton on Jan. 20 just before George W. Bush assumed the presidency.
The transcripts were released by the office of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who chairs the House Government Reform Committee. The panel is investigating whether the last-minute pardon was granted in exchange for donations from Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, who has contributed $450,000 to Clinton's presidential library foundation.
The transcripts, first reported by Newsweek, were released along with a letter to Barak asking if he knew more about Clinton's motives for granting the pardon.
Barak introduced the issue of pardoning Rich to Clinton during a Dec. 11, 2000 conversation.
"One last remark," Barak said. "There is an American Jewish businessman living in Switzerland and makes a lot of philanthropic contributions to Israeli institutions and activities and education."
Barak was aware Rich had "violated certain rules of the game in the United States" but asked Clinton to consider granting a pardon.
"I know about that case because I know his ex-wife," Clinton responded. "If your ex-wife wants to help you, that's good."
Clinton aides have told lawmakers that Barak's support of the pardon was key to its success.