The Justice Department yesterday declined to file charges in one of the more unusual cases of pardons and commutations issued by President Bill Clinton in his final days in office: allegations that the former president granted clemency to four Hasidic Jews after their tiny New York state community voted almost unanimously for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 senatorial race.
After months of silence on the matter, United States Attorney James B. Comey in Manhattan, who is overseeing investigations of 176 pardons and commutations granted in the final days of Clinton's presidency, said probes of the other cases would continue.
But no charges will be filed in the clemency case of four residents of New Square, N.Y., an orthodox Jewish enclave about 30 miles north of Manhattan. Unlike most of the commutations and pardons under scrutiny, the New Square case involved no allegations of legal favors being traded for money -- only for votes.
"This is a welcome, albeit completely predictable development," said David E. Kendall, former president Clinton's lawyer, to whom Clinton's office referred all questions yesterday.
Comey declined to elaborate on other cases, but among the most publicized pardons was the one Clinton gave to fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, was a major donor to the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Clinton library foundation.
Other pardons under investigation include those granted to two clients of Hillary Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, who received $400,000 in payments for representing them. Bill Clinton's brother, Roger, also was named in a recent House committee report for "a systematic effort to trade on his brother's name" in lobbying for pardons.
The pardon investigation began with considerable fanfare shortly after Bill Clinton's spate of last-minute legal forgiveness came to light. But it slowed after Sept. 11, when the New York FBI and U.S. attorney's offices became focused almost exclusively on the war on terrorism.
The New Square case involved four men -- Kalmen Stern, David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger and Jacob Ellman -- convicted in 1999 of bilking the federal government of more than $30 million in federal housing subsidies, small business loans and student grants. The four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 years.
During her Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, campaigned in the devoutly religious community, where many families have 10 or more children and more than 60 percent of residents live below the poverty line. On Election Day, she received 1,400 votes in New Square to 12 for Republican Rick Lazio.
Six weeks after the election, New Square Grand Rabbi David Twersky was granted a 45-minute meeting with Bill Clinton at the White House, with the senator-elect sitting in. Twersky asked for clemency for the four men, saying they had not used the money for themselves, but for programs in their low-income community. (Prosecutors said they used some for shoes, car repairs and a parking ticket.)
Clinton reduced the prison sentences to 2 to 2 1/2 years, but did not free the men as community leaders had asked. All have since been released from prison.
The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan was reported to be furious about the reduction in the sentences. It opened an inquiry into the New Square case and the pardon of Rich, who had fled the country after being indicted in one of the nation's largest tax evasion cases.
. Hillary Clinton has said she played no role in her husband's New Square decision. She had no comment on the closing of the clemency investigation, said her spokeswoman, Karen Dunn.
The Clintons' defenders contended that the New Square case could not be construed as a bribery or criminal case because nothing of monetary value was exchanged. They have said the former president did nothing against the law, citing the broad presidential power to grant pardons.
The House Government Reform Committee's investigative report, made public in March, did not allege that the pardons broke the law, but said that Clinton "ignored almost every applicable standard governing the exercise of the clemency power."