His Brother's Keeper

On that last frenzied Friday of Bill Clinton's presidency, as he prepared a list of nearly 140 pardons, one name stood out. And it wasn't Marc Rich, who was not added by Clinton until early the next day. He first wanted to take care of his half brother, Roger, the sometime rock singer who was convicted in 1985 on cocaine charges. Standard procedure called for the FBI to conduct a criminal-background check on each candidate for pardon. But Roger Clinton was no ordinary candidate. White House counsel Beth Nolan made an unusual request that his check be handled at the top levels of the Justice Department. That way, the FBI wouldn't be involved. "They wanted this done outside the ordinary course of business," said one Justice official.

Why did Clinton want the FBI out of the loop? Some close to the ex-president see it as a final chapter in his epic feud with Director Louis Freeh, whom Clinton loathes for his dogged pursuit of administration scandals. Clinton, some officials said, apparently feared that the FBI might try to embarrass him by scuttling his plans to pardon Roger.

But Clinton may have had other motives. Some FBI officials suspect the president had been tipped off to several highly sensitive inquiries in which his half brother's name figured prominently. Roger Clinton was never charged, but the FBI inquiries included allegations that he sought to peddle influence with his brother's administration. Roger Clinton's publicist said he wouldn't comment. (A Clinton spokeswoman said he was unaware of the FBI inquiries.)

The first probe began four years ago when agents interviewed Birmingham, Ala., businessman John Katopodis. The head of a group promoting a new regional airport, Katopodis, a well-connected Republican, wanted to bring a top federal official to attend a conference on the project. He was approached by Larry Wallace, an Arkansas lawyer who made an unusual offer.

According to FBI reports obtained by NEWSWEEK, Wallace allegedly assured Katopodis he could help secure Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. But he also wanted something: a job for Roger Clinton. "President Clinton told him [Wallace]... he was concerned about his 'baby' brother Roger," states one FBI interview with Katopodis. Wallace, who did not respond to repeated calls, proposed that Roger receive a $35,000-a-month contract with a private foundation Katopodis helped run. Katopodis balked. "That's a pretty big consulting fee for someone who plays in a rock band," Katopodis told NEWSWEEK. He says he later got calls from Roger Clinton himself, pressing for the contract. The FBI wanted him to wear a wire in a meeting with Roger Clinton. But Katopodis said he "wasn't comfortable with the whole thing." With that, the case died. (The FBI declined to comment.)

Then, last year, agents looked into allegations that the president's half brother sought payments for help in arranging pardons. The inquiry was dropped after Justice lawyers spotted a legal problem. Since Roger Clinton wasn't a federal official, it was not a crime to seek money to deliver action by the government. Roger Clinton may only have been pursuing that most common of Washington trades: lobbyist.