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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Chutzpah, indeed!

Today, White House spokesperson Tony Snow accused Hillary Clinton of "chutzpah" for criticizing the Bush administration's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison time. After all (the Republicans keep reminding us), Bill Clinton offered a last-minute pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Wanna talk chutzpah, Tony? Turns out that Marc Rich's lawyer -- the guy offering arguments that his client had done nothing wrong -- was none other than Scooter Libby. From a 2001 CNN article:
Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff testified Thursday he believes prosecutors of billionaire financier Marc Rich "misconstrued the facts and the law" when they went after Rich on tax evasion charges.

The testimony from Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who represented Rich dating back to 1985 but stopped working for him in the spring of 2000, came during a contentious, hours-long House committee hearing into former President Bill Clinton's eleventh-hour pardons.
In a letter to the New York Times, Clinton cited Libby's argument as one reason for the pardon.

The Rich affair remains mysterious. One of the people lobbying for clemency on his behalf was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Most people presume that Rich operated, at least in part, on behalf of Israel.

Yet the charges against Rich stem from illegal trading with Iran. Despite his Jewish background, he appears to have forged a special relationship with Iran's revolutionary leader, the vociferously anti-Israel Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rich made a ton of money on the Iranian sales, which he justified by arguing that his company was Swiss, and therefore exempt from American restrictions. Prosecutors therefore mounted an effort to get him on charges of avoiding taxes. Rich stayed out of court by remaining in Switzerland, which, due to its very different laws on tax evasion, would not extradite.

U.S. Marshalls tried to capture Rich overseas, but their plans were continually leaked, and the target repeatedly got away. One wonders who relayed the information to him.

Again, these events took place when Scooter Libby was his lawyer.
Two other companies, large oil concerns with names you know, were charged with doing the same thing as Marc Rich's company did. Their offenses were treated as technical tax code violations, and therefore civil matters, not crimes at all; they paid the back taxes and some fines, and that was it.

In the case of Marc Rich, however, a politically ambitious NY/southern district US Attorney decided he would invent a novel application of the RICO laws in a civil matter as had never been done before, and which results devolved into such a travesty of justice that now DOJ guidelines for prosecutors forbid them from pursuing civil RICO charges against anybody. (That US Attorney? One Rudy Guiliani, and this provides an excellent window into his bullying character and why he should never be allowed near the Oval Office).

Rich did not 'flee' the country as a fugitive from indictment-- he maintained a residence and business HQ in Switzerland at all times, and left the country to return there as per his normal travel patterns before any indictments were returned. (Note, this was a civil matter involving no criminal indictments at all for the other two companies). Rich wasn't additionally charged with being a fugitive, because the terms of that charge didn't apply to his situation because it was as described above, despite how these terms are loosely thrown around to describe what he did.

The Marc Rich case went through all the normal procedural hurdles for presidential pardons, including review by the special DOJ pardon section, seeking the comments pro or con of the original prosecutor, and etc. The complete 'regular order' of things was honored, including, most importantly perhaps, that the aggrieved party actually submit a pardon request, but all the rest of it as well. Additionally, Marc Rich's company PAID IN FULL ALL THE TAXES OWED, AND THE FINES, amounting to several hundred million dollars.

(To be sure, normally, such a petitioner could not remain 'at large,' sought by authorities, and must instead have surrendered himself to the authorities. And normally, the president would require a positive recommendation from the DOJ pardon officer and whatever other panels he consulted, and in Rich's case, those parties recommended no pardon. But the situation was unique, unprecedented, and the DOJ and the prosecutor were loathe to admit they'd badly abused their authority in the first place to get these indictments, although that was exactly what they had done.)

But the Libby case featured no such formalities whatsoever. Libby didn't apply for any presidential relief. He hadn't begun serving his time, nor cease pursuing his appeals. He didn't repent or express remorse. He didn't pledge on-going cooperation with the prosecutor, still less deliver on such a proffer. And Bush didn't go through ANY DOJ process, ask ANY official opinion of anyone-- he simply trashed the system for this, and rashly substituted his opinion for any due process as it exists in DOJ guidelines.

In assuring that Libby served less time than the original time Paris Hilton did before she was prematurely released, Bush appears to be saying that ANY JAIL TIME more than ZERO was excessive, and his slap-dash lightening quick 'review' of this matter has more the appearance of a heavy-handed obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact kind of thing, rather than a righting of any injustice.

Well-said, sofla. I had never heard the "other side of the story" before. But with the eagerness of the CMSM to trash Clinton whenever there was an opportunity, why should I be surprised about that? Thanks.
Thank you so much for writing this. I remembered reading about the connection between Marc Rich and Scooter Libby and had been waiting for someone else to toss it into the conversation so I wouldn't have to. Having spent my youth as a tax lawyer, I also appreciate Sofla's explanation of the merits of the case. The only thing I would add is that I believe Mr. Libby's defense of Mr. Rich in 2001 was confined to the tax issues; he condemned the trade with Iran as treasonous, conveniently leaving out the fact that the revered Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, definitely in the Iran-contra affair and probably as part of the October Surprise, and then there were Halliburton's business dealings with Iran as well. I'm sure it's far too much to expect any mainstream coverage of all these connected dots.
Wow, great article and a great comment by solfa. I knew the basic facts, but now I know the Rest of the Story. And the Reagan Casey Bush Iran Contra treason still makes me want to cuss even though it has been awhile since I read Gary Sick's and Barbara Hoonegger's books on the subject.
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grateful to sofla for what she has written. TO me, the most intriguing thing about Rich is what exactly did he do for and with Iran, and did he do it on behalf of Israel. A "stuff for oil" exchange seems like a reasonable guess, and I can see why both sides would want to kep it quiet.
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