In Defense of Bill Clinton
Jude Wanniski
February 20, 2001


Memo To: Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Pardoning Marc Rich

To tell you the truth, Senator, until Sunday, I had not paid the slightest bit of attention to the furor over President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. At the time Rich fled the United States in 1983 while under indictment, I never read the stories as to what the case was all about and simply assumed here was a bad guy who knew he was going to go up the river if his case were to go to trial. When President Clinton’s pardons were announced in the last minutes of his presidency, I did not bother to read about the Rich case because I was brooding about the President’s failure to pardon my friend Mike Milken. I’ve argued for years that Milken was a victim of the overzealousness of U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, back in the days when the Mayor was making a name for himself by sending rich Wall Streeters up the river for doing mysterious things on various trading floors. His use of the federal racketeering laws (RICO) -- which were designed to catch Tony Soprano and his ilk at play in the rackets -- was especially odious to me. The law gave Giuliani so much power that once he decided Milken was guilty of something, he could prosecute him on everything until he found a technical violation that might stick.

It was not until President Clinton wrote his op-ed in the Sunday New York Times,"My Reasons for the Pardons,” that I decided to finally focus on the Rich case. What did I find? I found Marc Rich and his partner, Pincus Green, were also the victims of Giuliani’s determination to become another Tom Dewey. It was Dewey in the late 1930s and early 1940s who rode his success in prosecuting the mob into the New York governorship and, in 1948, the Republican presidential nomination. It is hard to blame Giuliani for using the tools the Congress gave him with RICO, and who knows, maybe Marc Rich and Pincus Green were up to no good on the trading floors. But once I read Mr. Clinton’s defense, it opened my mind to the possibility that his pardon of Rich and Green was correcting a miscarriage of justice. The fact that Clinton explicitly said the pardon would not put Rich beyond the reach of civil lawsuits that were arising out of his activities in commodity trading way back when made a positive impression on me. But the biggest news to me was that Leonard Garment, who I believe is a really, really good and honest man, told the NYT that he believes the arguments for the Rich pardon had “merit.” I’ve known Garment since his days as President Richard Nixon’s White House counselor and believe he would never stick his neck out that way for Rich if he did not believe in his fundamental “innocence.”

Yes, Garment is a lawyer who represented Rich and probably made a small fortune in billable hours on the case when he still was involved, but the fact that he knows as much as he does about the particulars and still thinks the case for the pardon has “merit” is what persuades me that President Clinton did the right thing. I’m sorry he did not pardon Mike Milken, who faced the same kind of RICO Inquisition at the hands of Giuliani. But it is noteworthy that Giuliani publicly announced his SUPPORT for a presidential pardon of Milken, I believe because he has come to realize with age and wisdom that Mike did not deserve the punishment he got. It is noteworthy, too, that Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, not only didn’t “object” to the pardons of Rich and Green, but ALSO said that he believed Milken should have been pardoned. It was The New York Times editorial page that heard about the possibility of a Milken pardon which made a stink about it. The Times generally favors putting anyone in prison who has made a billion dollars on Wall Street -- on the theory that you have to be crooked to do so. It never lifted a finger to study the charges against Milken at the time and, curiously, did not mention Giuliani’s support for a Milken pardon -- although he is the Mayor of New York City. Shame on the Times.

Yes, Senator, you are hard-wired as a prosecutor, having built the foundation of your political career in Philadelphia as a government attorney. You clearly feel sympathy for the prosecutorial class in the Rich case, because, unlike Milken, he did not stay and take his RICO poison as Milken did. My suggestion is that you simply read Mr. Clinton’s op-ed a few more times and accept it at face value. He thought he did the right thing and now I think he probably did so too. It is too late for him to pardon Milken, but not too late for President George Bush to do so. Next time you see him, you might make a point of it.