Clinton library releases documents. keeps others

March 7, 2008 8:38:59 PM PST
The Clinton Presidential Library withheld more than a thousand pages about clemency the former president granted during his last days in office - including a pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich - from a batch of documents recently released to the public. The library released 2,830 pages of documents this week on pardons President Bill Clinton considered for Rich and others during his last months in office. But the library withheld another 1,114 pages that archivists said would disclose confidential discussion of advice the former president received from advisers or would violate someone's personal privacy.

The library's delays in releasing documents have prompted criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, the former president.

Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, which runs the library, said Friday that the federal agency may have misinterpreted Clinton's instructions in a 2002 letter to the Archives on his presidential records when deciding what pardon documents to release.

"We had been interpreting the easing letter president Clinton wrote in a particular way and were interpreting it very conservatively," Cooper said. "We then discovered in the course of conversations with (Clinton adviser Bruce Lindsey) that the president's desire was to interpret the easing letter less conservatively and more openly. ... It is for that reason there was more material withheld in this pardon material than we would have if we had been reviewing this stuff later."

Cooper said archivists don't have any immediate plans to revisit the pardon records to determine whether additional papers should be made public because doing so would delay the release of other records. The library is expected to release 10,000 pages of Hillary Clinton's schedules as first lady later this month.

"We're serving several masters at the same time. If we do that and look at all of the materials we've released so far, we're not going to get anything new out," Cooper said. "What that means is Mrs. Clinton's schedules would not be out on time and whatever is next in the queue would not be attended to."

On his last day in office, President Clinton granted 140 pardons and 36 commutations, many of them controversial. The documents released include dozens of letters Clinton and his advisers received in the months before he left office advocating pardons for Rich and others.

Rich had fled the country after being indicted for tax evasion.

His ex-wife, Denise Rich, had contributed $450,000 to the Clinton library and more than $1.1 million to the Democratic Party.

In a Dec. 6, 2000, letter, Denise Rich pleaded with Clinton - "as a friend and admirer" - to pardon her ex-husband.

"You have the power in this matter not just to show mercy, but to do justice. I believe with all my heart that this is the right thing to do," she wrote.

Another advocate of Rich's pardon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who at the time was mayor of Jerusalem, wrote Clinton on Nov. 27, 2000, praising Rich's contributions to various causes in Jerusalem.

"Any wrongdoing, if any, has been largely surpassed by his voluntary contributions to society as a whole, and I believe that he will continue to devote his philanthropic generosity to the welfare of the needy in the United States as well," Olmert wrote.

The released documents also include letters the White House received regarding Rich's partner Pincus Green, who was also granted a pardon by Clinton.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by USA Today in January 2006, when the library first began accepting such requests. Hillary Clinton has been criticized by her Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama and by Republicans over the number of documents not released by her husband's library.

The letters released show intense lobbying by celebrities, politicians and foreign leaders as Clinton approached his final days in office. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter asked Clinton to offer clemency to Patty Hearst Shaw, who was kidnapped in the 1970s by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, then joined the group and helped rob a bank "I'm sure you know her history. She made a mistake, but she has led an exemplary life for more than 20 years now," Carter said in a handwritten note to Clinton on Jan. 10, 2001. "For her sake, and especially for the sake of her daughters, I hope you can find it in your heart to pardon her."

Former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe wrote Clinton a few days later asking the president to pardon him for kidnapping his first wife and their children. That pardon was denied.

"I became the heavyweight champion of the world from hard work.

I was able to provide certain necessities to my large family. Many people depended on me and still depend on me to this very day for certain necessities," Bowe wrote. "If I am not given back my livelihood, we might just lose everything."