Pardon Mess Thickens

A new batch of provocative e-mails suggests that top advisers to fugitive financier Marc Rich first plotted nearly a year ago to send Rich's ex-wife, wealthy Democratic donor Denise Rich, on a "personal mission" to President Clinton-the first foray in an extraordinarily well-orchestrated pardon campaign that began long before lawyers for Rich have publicly acknowledged.

The e-mails, among Rich's lawyers and advisers, were subpoeanaed by congressional investigators and are due to be released today at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee. They appear to show that the campaign to win Rich a pardon was far more elaborate-and may have begun much earlier-than was previously known.

Avner Azulay, a former top Mossad agent who now heads the Marc Rich Foundation in Israel, wrote an e-mail on March 18, 2000, to Robert Fink, one of Rich's lawyers in New York, which read: "We are reverting to the idea discussed with Abe--which is to send DR on a 'personal mission' to NO1 with a well-prepared script."

A congressional investigator said last night that the House Government Reform Committee believes Azulay's cryptic reference to "NO1" is in fact code for "Number One" or President Clinton. "DR" is a reference to Denise Rich. It was not immediately clear who "Abe" was.

Another Azulay e-mail suggests the former Israeli intelligence official had been contemplating a pardon plea for his boss even earlier than that. In a Feb. 10, 2000, e-mail, Azulay expresses his disappointment that federal prosecutors in New York had rejected an offer to negotiate a plea bargain of Rich's 1983 indictment on tax-evasion and racketeering charges while the financier remained overseas in Switzerland. Reacting with disgust to a report from Rich's lawyer Jack Quinn that the only thing the prosecutors are willing to negotiate is Rich's "surrender" to federal authorities, Azulay wrote: "I have to say that 'I told you so'..." Azulay then adds: "The present impasse leaves us with only one other option: the unconventional approach which has not yet been tried and which I have been proposing all along."

If so, the plotting for a presidential pardon in February and March of 2000 would contradict previous public accounts by Quinn that there was no consideration given to seeking a pardon for Rich until November 2000 when federal prosecutors in New York again rebuffed efforts to persuade them to drop the criminal charges against Rich.

Azulay doesn't explain in the e-mail what "the unconventional approach" is. Fink, the e-mail recipient, is due to testify at Thursday's hearing and is expected to be grilled closely on what Azulay was referring to. But congressional investigators say they believe "the unconventional approach" is a reference to a presidential pardon. If so, the plotting for a presidential pardon in February and March of 2000 would contradict previous public accounts by Quinn that there was no consideration given to seeking a pardon for Rich until November 2000 when federal prosecutors in New York again rebuffed efforts to persuade them to drop the criminal charges against Rich.

Perhaps more significantly, the early talk of a pardon would undercut claims by ex-president Clinton's defenders that there was no link between the pardon campaign and hefty donations and pledges to the Clinton presidential library in May 2000 by Denise Rich and her loyal friend and ally in the pardon efforts, former Democratic Party finance chair Beth Dozoretz.

Records obtained by the House committee show that Denise Rich, who had donated more than $1 million to the Democratic Party during Clinton's presidency, also gave $450,000 to the Clinton library-including a $100,000 check that was written May 11, 2000, just two months after Azulay first talked about sending Denise Rich on a "personal mission" on behalf of her ex-husband. The records also show that Dozoretz, who solicited Denise Rich's contributions, pledged to raise $1 million for the library in May 2000. Federal prosecutors in New York are now aggressively investigating the pardon and are especially interested in determining whether monies donated by Denise Rich to the Clinton library were secretly advanced by her ex-husband as part of his efforts to win a presidential pardon.

Among the other documents obtained by congressional investigators are a flurry of phone messages from Dozoretz to Quinn that appear to seek regular updates on the status of the Rich pardon case. "Any news on the matter?" reads one Dozoretz message on Jan. 2, 2001, as the pardon campaign was moving into high gear. The phone-message slips show more than a dozen phone messages for Quinn from Dozoretz in the weeks immediately before and after the Jan. 20, 2001, pardon. (There are also a handful of messages from Denise Rich.) In one message dated Jan. 29, Dozoretz leaves a message informing Quinn that he is "getting a reputation as the smartest lawyer in America." Dozoretz has been subpoenaed to testify, but her lawyer has informed the committee that, in light of the criminal investigation in New York, she plans to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Also due to testify today are former White House counsel Beth Nolan; former White House lawyer, and Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey, and former chief of staff John Podesta, as well as another Rich lawyer, Scooter Libby, who is now Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.