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Rich pardon poor move for Clinton

I AM TIRED of hearing about it. You are tired of hearing about it. We all are tired of hearing about it. But as we quickly are learning, former President Clinton is anything but tired of supplying us with scandal fodder.

One would have thought that after Jan. 20, we would have been able to look back upon the Clinton era as one of mixed triumphs and failures. There was a lot of potential there - an Oxford-educated, moderate Democrat who successfully pushed and pulled his party back to the political center. There were a lot of bright moments. He crafted a plan that was partially responsible for the greatest economic boom in American history. He delivered on welfare reform. He balanced the budget. He produced a crime plan that actually worked. These were all great accomplishments. Unfortunately, as skilled as he was at being president, he was equally skilled at providing ammunition for his enemies to attack and sometimes mortally wound him politically.

Clinton was lucky in that he and his allies could always find a way to spin his or his wife's misdeeds in such a way to at least partially reduce their share of the blame. But with his last-minute pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, Bill Clinton made a new kind of mistake - an unspinnable one.

There is no excuse for his action. None. He has seriously jeopardized his future as leader of his party and added another entry to the scandalous side of history's ledger - a side we all would like to forget.

Going back as far as his first term in office, one could always make a logical case in defense of Bill Clinton. You could attribute his problems to his overzealous political enemies. You could write off his moral failings as personal matters that, while shameful and disgraceful, did not significantly impact his ability to run our country. Even throughout the long national nightmare of Monica Lewinsky, many Americans passionately (and correctly) argued that Congressional Republicans were not so much out for the truth as they were trying to overturn an election.

These are the contrasts that make this new twist so interesting and yet so frustrating. One can't make a single logical or practical argument in defense of the former president's pardon of Marc Rich. Rich is a financier and former commodities trader who made his fortune bribing the finance ministers of underdeveloped nations into giving him sweetheart deals to mine and export their raw materials. Chances are very good that many of the consumer products you and I enjoy are made in part of these same raw materials.

That way of doing business isn't very nice, but it is the way of the world. It's Marc Rich's other wrongdoings that have rightly infuriated Clinton-haters and Clinton-supporters alike. He was indicted in 1993 on charges of up to $48 million in tax evasion.

Even more galling, in the early 1980s, while the Iranian government was holding American diplomats hostage in Tehran, Rich was negotiating an illegal - and more importantly, immoral - oil deal with the Ayatollah Khomeini, the effective leader of Iran and religious fanatic, himself. Clearly, this isn't a nice guy.

Rich was in no way deserving of a presidential pardon. He wasn't even an American citizen, a status he renounced years ago.

Yet Clinton pardoned him. It's not news that presidents like to hand out pardons during their final hours in office. Sometimes they grant them for humanitarian reasons. Often they give them as political favors. It's normal and healthy to debate the merits of some of these pardons. Presidents of both parties have granted pardons for questionable motives to questionable characters.

But the Marc Rich case is different. His story fits none of the above descriptions. This pardon is a unique combination of an entirely undeserving recipient and highly questionable motives. Former President Clinton granted this particular pardon for his own reasons, but chances are that a political donation had a whole lot to do with it. If Rich's ex-wife Denise really did give the ex-president half a million dollars to pardon her former husband, this is yet another strong argument for campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, that will have to wait so long as a Bush resides in the White House.

In the end, Rich turned out to be even more slick than Slick Willy himself. He gets to live an extravagant lifestyle jetting around Israel, Europe and anywhere else his passport will take him. Our former president, on the other hand, has offended so many of his own supporters this time that the self-styled Comeback Kid might not be able to.

For eight years President Clinton's supporters had to compensate for his many shortcomings by spending a lot of political capital and bringing their own credibility into question. His misdeeds cost many of these supporters their jobs. Perhaps most notably, Clinton's misbehavior cost one former vice president his first chance for the top job. Now, these voices of support have fallen silent. We have to throw up our hands in disgust.

There is no excuse in the world for granting a pardon to a snake such as Marc Rich. None.

(Timothy DuBoff's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at