'I Made A Mistake'

The country's leading Jewish civil-rights organization acknowledged today that it had received a $100,000 grant from fugitive financier Marc Rich weeks after the group's national director became involved in efforts to secure Rich a presidential pardon.

The $100,000 donation to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League was part of a total of $250,000 that Rich has given the group since he fled the United States more than 17 years ago to avoid facing trial on tax evasion and racketeering charges, according to figures made public for the first time today by Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director.

But the timing of the last grant--in the early months of 2000--raised new questions about the role of Rich's financial largesse in securing crucial support for a pardon that is now under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors. It also seems likely to fuel controversy among American Jewish groups over the high-profile activities of some Jewish leaders, especially Foxman, in aligning themselves with Rich.

In his first public accounting of his own role in the affair, the ADL's Foxman said today that shortly after getting a written pledge for Rich's donation from Avner Azulay, the head of the Marc Rich Foundation, he agreed to meet in Paris with Azulay and an Israeli arms consultant, Zvi Rafiah, to "brainstorm" over ways to resolve Rich's legal problems.

It was at that February 2000 meeting at a Paris restaurant that Foxman said he first proposed that Azulay recruit Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, a major contributor to the Democratic Party, to the project. Foxman said it was he-and not Rich aide Azulay-who actually first raised the idea of getting a pardon from President Clinton.

"I told them maybe they should consider trying to get a pardon," Foxman said. "I told them, 'Why don't you reach out to Denise Rich ... and have her approach the president and see about a pardon."

That meeting, it is now clear, became the basis for an intriguing e-mail dated March 18, 2000, from Azulay to one of Rich's New York lawyers that was made public earlier this month by congressional investigators. The e-mail was considered significant because it appeared to show that Rich's advocates were plotting a pardon strategy long before they had earlier acknowledged.

"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," the e-mail read. ("Abe" was a reference to Foxman, "DR" to Denise Rich and "NO1" was President Clinton.)

For all the attention the Rich pardon has gotten, Foxman's apparently key role in suggesting it was not known until today. Nor was the financial grant that Rich was bestowing on the ADL at the same time.

Foxman said today he now regrets his decision to became involved in the case which culminated last Dec. 7 when, at the request of Azulay and Rich's lawyers, he wrote President Clinton a letter urging a pardon for Rich.

"In hindsight, I made a wrong judgment," Foxman said, emphasizing that he had not been given complete information about the case. Citing recent congressional testimony, Foxman said he had not been aware that Rich could have returned to the country and been released on bail pending a trial rather than go immediately to jail.

But Foxman bitterly resented suggestions that there was any connection between the financial contributions and his decision to help Rich. ADL officials also insisted that Rich's contributions were "not significant" in the context of the ADL's overall $57 million annual budget.

"I really find offensive the idea that Abe Foxman was bought for a check for $100,000," he told a group of reporters. "If he gave me nothing--or he gave me $10 million--I would have made the same decision, for which I now say I made a mistake."

As Foxman explained it, he first met Rich in Zurich, Switzerland, in the mid-1980s, shortly after the commodities broker had fled the United States and during a time that Rich was actively thwarting efforts by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service to bring him to justice.

Rich reached out to him, Foxman said, because the financier wanted to persuade him he had been "targeted" by federal prosecutors because he was Jewish and that he was therefore a victim of "anti-Semitism." Foxman said he asked Rich to substantiate those charges with some documentation. But Rich never did, and Foxman--whose organization is dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism--said he concluded that there was no basis to Rich's charge.

Nevertheless, the Zurich meeting laid the basis for an ongoing relationship between the ADL and Rich. The Marc Rich Foundation, based in Jerusalem, made a series of grants to the ADL over the years to fund various projects, such as one involving a museum exhibit on Jewish life in Latin America. Rich also proved helpful to the ADL in other areas. When there was an outburst of anti-Semitism in Romania after the fall of communism, Foxman said Rich helped arrange for the country's new president to denounce it. Foxman acknowledged that he did not know exactly how Rich was able to do this.

But by the mid-1990s, the relationship between Rich and the ADL had become dormant. Then, sometime in the fall of 1999, Foxman said he got a call from Azulay, an Israeli and former Mossad agent who had recently taken over the Rich Foundation. Azulay noted that the foundation hadn't given the ADL money for some years. "I'd like to reinstitute the support of the foundation," Azulay told him. "I'll try to make up for the years we haven't given."

According to documents that have since been made public by a House committee, this was also about the time that Rich's lawyers were examining new ways to resolve Rich's legal problems. Although most of the work at that time revolved around trying to negotiate an agreement with federal prosecutors in New York, the idea of winning a pardon was not far from the table. A "privilege" log of work done for Rich by one of his law firms, Arnold & Porter, shows one of the lawyers writing a memo entitled "Legal Research re: Pardon Power" in March 1999.

Then, around December 1999, Foxman said he got a call from Zvi Rafiah, a former Israeli diplomat in Washington who now works as a lobbyist and consultant to Israeli weapons companies. Foxman said Rafiah, who he described as an old friend, invited him to meet with Azulay to discuss Rich's legal problems. Since Foxman planned to be traveling to Europe, a meeting was arranged for the three men, Foxman, Rafiah and Azulay, in Paris in February 2000.

But before he made the trip, Foxman got a written note from Azulay pledging a specific grant of $100,000 to fund an ADL-sponsored project on Europe designed to teach children about the evils of racial and religious prejudice. The $100,000 pledge was the largest the ADL had ever gotten from the Rich Foundation.

Foxman insisted today that he never discussed the pledge with Azulay when they got together in Paris a few weeks later even though the Rich Foundation's prospective donation was the only subject they talked about the previous time they had chatted-during the unsolicited fall 1999 telephone call from Azulay to Foxman.

Foxman also said that his idea of using Denise Rich to win over President Clinton for a pardon was not based on any inside knowledge of Denise Rich. Most of what he knew about Denise Rich and her connections to the Clinton White House, he said, was based on what he had read "in the tabloids."

"Weeks after" that February 2000 meeting, Foxman said, the Rich Foundation transferred the $100,000 into one of the ADL's bank accounts.

Meanwhile, events played out much as Foxman first suggested at the Paris meeting. In December 2000, at the suggestion of Rich's lawyers, Denise Rich--who has contributed $450,000 to the Clinton library along with more than $1 million to Democratic Party causes--and her good friend Beth Dozoretz, another major Democratic and Clinton-library fundraiser, began importuning Clinton to grant the pardon.

Also joining the campaign was Foxman himself, who sent Clinton his Dec. 7, 2000, letter urging the pardon on the grounds that "we are a country that was founded on the belief in second chances." Clinton, in a New York Times op-ed written after the Rich furor erupted, cited the pleas of the Israeli government and "leaders of Jewish communities in America and Europe" as one of his principal reasons for granting the pardon.