Former president Bill Clinton says he regrets the last-minute pardon he gave to fugitive financier Marc Rich because it has tarnished his reputation.
Asked whether he would do it again, he said in an interview with Newsweek, "Probably not, just for the politics." He added, "It was terrible politics. It wasn't worth the damage to my reputation. But that doesn't mean the attacks were true."
A list of 177 pardons and clemencies was released by the Clinton White House just hours before Clinton left office and George W. Bush was sworn in Jan. 20, 2001.
Since then, the pardons have been investigated by federal prosecutors and Congress. That scrutiny, Clinton said, made him "just angry that after I worked so hard and after all that money had been spent proving that I never did anything wrong for money, that I'd get mugged one more time on the way out the door."
Rich was indicted in 1983 on federal charges accusing him of evading more than $48 million in income taxes and illegally buying oil from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. He left the United States before the indictment and now lives in Switzerland.
Rich is the ex-husband of Denise Rich, a financial contributor to the Democratic Party and to Clinton's presidential library.
The House Government Reform Committee, headed by longtime Clinton foe Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), said in a report last month that it believes Rich's pardon "raised substantial questions of direct corruption, primarily whether pardons were issued in exchange for political and other financial contributions."
Federal investigators in New York are investigating whether any of Clinton's last-minute pardons were offered in exchange for contributions.
Clinton denied all wrongdoing in regard to the Rich pardon. "The fact that his ex-wife . . . was for it and had contributed to my library had nothing to do with it," he said, according to the Newsweek interview released yesterday.
"People are free to say that they disagreed with this or that part of the decisions I made, but there wasn't a shred of evidence that it had been done for any improper motive," Clinton said. "In fact, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. I thought there was a little bit of a double standard in the way I was treated, to put it mildly. And I still do."
Clinton said he was a little more open to Rich's claim of prosecutorial abuse because of all the investigations he endured as president.
"I don't know Marc Rich and wouldn't know him if he walked in the door there," Clinton said. But, he added, "I was very sensitive to prosecutorial abuse because I had seen it. . . . I don't think that's all bad for a president to be sensitive to any kind of abuse of power."
On a lighter note, Clinton said he is getting a chocolate Labrador puppy, a relative of his late dog, Buddy.
Buddy, a frisky retriever often seen at Clinton's side as he jogged, was killed in January by a car outside the former president's home in Chappaqua, N.Y.