Chicago, Saturday, March 24, 2001
JEWISH LEADER SUGGESTED RICH PARDON A YEAR AGO WRITING ON OFFICIAL STATIONERY WAS MISTAKE, HE SAYS
By Verena Dobnik
NEW YORK -- American Jewish leader [sic] Abraham Foxman said Friday that he suggested more than a year ago that Marc Rich's former wife ask President Bill Clinton to pardon him.
Foxman said he broached the idea to a top Rich aide just weeks after the fugitive financier's foundation pledged $100,000 to the Anti-Defamation League.
The suggestion came at least eight months before Rich's lawyers filed a formal pardon application with the Clinton White House.
Foxman, national director of the ADL, a non-profit organization that monitors anti-Semitism, also said he made a mistake in writing a letter on ADL stationery supporting the pardon.
Clinton granted the pardon in his last hours in office--about a year after a Paris dinner at which Foxman says he suggested the pardon to an ex-chief of Israel's spy agency who headed the Rich Foundation.
Foxman spoke to reporters at ADL headquarters. It was his first comment on the pardon controversy.
Clinton's pardons of Rich and others are being investigated by the U.S. attorney in New York and by a congressional committee. They are looking into charges that contributions to Democrats by Rich's ex-wife, Denise, played a role in securing presidential clemency for Rich.
The Rich Foundation has donated about $250,000 to the ADL for projects including prejudice-reduction programs in Europe and Israel.
In January 2000, Zvi Rafiach, an Israeli businessman and friend of Foxman, called to say Rich Foundation head Avner Azulay wanted to meet the ADL director. That was followed by a note from the foundation pledging $100,000 to the ADL, Foxman said.
In February 2000, over dinner in Paris, Foxman suggested to Azulay that Rich seek a pardon.
"My suggestion then was, reach out to Denise Rich and ... have her approach the president and ask for a pardon," Foxman said.
He said he knew the Riches were estranged and "had suffered a tragedy," the death of their daughter from leukemia. Foxman said he hoped that shared experience might influence Denise Rich to act on behalf of Marc Rich.
"We sat around dinner and brainstormed," Foxman said. He said he gave "guidance" and "wasn't asked to do anything."
Foxman said he was aware Denise Rich was "a socialite close to the White House" and a Democratic contributor.
In an e-mail on March 18, 2000, a month after meeting with Foxman, Azulay suggested to Rich lawyer Robert Fink that Denise Rich be sent on a "mission" to Clinton to help secure the pardon. "We are reverting to the idea discussed with Abe," the e-mail said.
Then, last December, Foxman said, Azulay visited the ADL's New York office with a draft petition, asking Foxman whether he could "do something." The ADL director wrote a letter in support of the petition after consulting with his legal team.
Foxman said he had suggested that Marc Rich be pardoned for "humanitarian" reasons.
"I felt sorry for him," Foxman said of Rich, believing he couldn't enter the United States even to visit his daughter's grave without being arrested.
Since then, the ADL official said, he found out that New York prosecutors had offered Rich the possibility of returning to face the charges while staying free on bail.
In retrospect, "I wouldn't send the letter," Foxman conceded. "I felt I made a wrong judgment . . . because it was not directly on target with what the ADL's mission is."