March 5, 2001

Covering up the Marc Rich scandal

It's amazing how the Marc Rich pardon story has taken on so many permutations that the real impact of it is lost – and the real meaning missed. Between the Burton committee's halfhearted investigation, and Mary Jo Whitewash's efforts – not to mention the involvement of various Rodhams, including Hillary, in other pardons – the whole trend of this developing story has been to divert attention away from the high level lobbying effort on Rich's behalf and make this into just another tale of Clintonian avarice. The Burton committee is intent on staging Impeachment II, summoning White House aides, as well as Denise Rich and Democratic official Beth Dozoretz, seemingly embarked on a quixotic search for the holy grail of a quid pro quo. Mary Jo is reportedly after Rich, not Clinton, digging for evidence that Rich used illegal means to fund his campaign for a pardon – crimes not covered by his presidential get-out-of-jail-free card. While Rich called off the post pardon party he was planning on throwing at Zurich's elegantly exclusive Chesa Veglia restaurant – no need to be too vulgar in his moment of triumph – the cadre of internationally-connected lawyers, politicians, and leading public figures who pulled it off must be breathing a sigh of relief. The billionaire commodities trader had invited his friends to a "Night in Las Vegas'" party at the St. Moritz ski resort to celebrate, but you can bet there's a whole lot of private partying going on: and if the present phony "investigations" of this shameful incident continue on course, they have all the more reason to pop the champagne corks and whoop it up (discreetly, of course).


The cancellation of the "Night in Las Vegas" jamboree was the occasion for a delectable bon mot by [London] Spectator columnist and British Old Rightist Taki Theodoracopulos:

"The last time Marc Rich called off a party was in Spain, about five or six years ago. His Mossad-trained bodyguards were tipped off that his private jet would be forced down the moment it left Swiss airspace by Yankee F-16s, so he stayed put. No reason was offered back then. Although the US government was out to grab him, Rich had the proverbial ace up his sleeve. By giving lotsa moolah to Israel, he was being fed information by Mossad that even the top brass of the Pentagon weren't getting. Mossad knew that the snatch was on by listening in on the Americans. They tipped off the fugitive fraudster, a move that eventually made Bill Clinton rich, pun intended."


This has become a story almost completely about clan Clinton, formerly America's most powerful crime family, now scorned and testified against by their former consigliares. The complex conspiracy to win Rich's pardon has been narrowed down to a simple mercenary operation: contributions to the Clinton presidential library fund in exchange for Rich's pardon. But even if the pardon was simply bought and paid for, it still takes at least two parties to conduct a transaction, and in all the focus on Clinton the question of who negotiated the terms of Clinton's beneficence on Rich's behalf is getting lost. But not entirely: like a pile of corpses buried in a mass grave, occasionally some portion of the truth will be seen sticking up through the ground. The Burton committee – and the Bush administration – was given a jolt when the Democrats called Lewis "Scooter" Libby, vice president Dick Cheney's chief of staff, to the witness stand. Libby testified that not only did he approve of the pardon, he actually called Rich to offer his congratulations the moment he heard the news! It was a "Bad Night for the GOP" – and if that is what National Review is calling it, then it's a considerable understatement.


According to Libby, he agreed with the infamous apologia penned by Clinton for the New York Times: the president had made a decision strictly on the merits of the case brought before him. Of course, it was Libby himself who made that case, in legal work done while in Rich's employ, arguments that Clinton cited as particularly convincing. The standard Republican response is to simply assert that Libby was merely doing his job, carrying out his professional duties to his client: but this misses the point that even lawyers are judged by certain ethical standards. No doubt Libby was well-paid for his efforts, but such a politically well-connected member of a high-powered Washington law firm does not take on a client for purely economic motives. He must, first of all, believe in the justice of his clients' cause, at least to the extent that he can make a credible and convincing case. Secondly, the effort to pardon Marc Rich – the Mumia Abu-Jamal of the international jet set – was a systematic and well-organized campaign, with clear ideological overtones and a dedicated cadre of activists ceaselessly working to achieve their goal. Libby was just a part of it, perhaps peripheral: his testimony, however, is the clearest evidence yet that this was not just some Democratic party scam to rake in millions, but a truly bipartisan conspiracy – one with important foreign policy and domestic political implications that have been downplayed if not entirely buried by politicians of both parties.


As long as the Burton committee investigation focuses on what they believe to be a simple case of bribery, the real authors of this conspiracy against justice are safe from public view. But an investigation that was never originally intended to go much of anywhere can get out of control, and take on a momentum of its own: and that is why there is this bipartisan rush to "move on." This sentiment becomes all the more convincing when the issue is framed in terms of Clinton as the chief if not the sole culprit, who simply sold pardons for cash. Are we going to impeach him again? Ordinary folk can hardly stifle a yawn. By this time, nothing short of serial murder would shock the nation if attributed to their former commander-in-chief – and there are those who would count the bombings that coincided with key points in l'affair Lewinsky as arguably falling in that category. But otherwise, it's no big deal that there is corruption in Washington – unless it happens to involve other, more serious crimes.


If the Rich pardon was all about money, then what are we to make of an email from Rich's legal team released by the Burton committee that shows a respected public figure such as Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, intimately involved in the genesis of the Rich pardon effort? Shortly after launching this campaign, Avner Azulay, head of the Marc Rich Foundation and a former top-ranking Mossad agent, emailed Robert Fink, a New York lawyer, and informed him that "We are reverting to the idea discussed with Abe [Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman], which is to send DR [Denise Rich] on a 'personal' mission to NO1. with a well-prepared script." Congressional investigators don't think they're taking a wild guess as to the identity of "NO1." But the real question is: just what is a committed ideologue like Abe Foxman doing trying to get Rich off? Surely he had limited interest in acting as a bagman for the Clinton presidential library. These days, Foxman – usually a voluble sort – is uncharacteristically incommunicado. The mystery deepens.


Similarly, what about the long list of Israeli dignitaries and American supporters of Israel who lent their names to the effort to pardon Rich by writing letters? Why haven't we heard from them? The head of the taxpayer-funded Holocaust Museum in Washington sent a letter to the President on official stationary asking for clemency in Rich's case, a revelation that many in the Jewish community find deeply disturbing. But the Burton committee is unlikely to subpoena Foxman, or any of the others who went to bat for Rich, because such a hearing would soon be denounced and discredited as an anti-Semitic witch-hunt. However, under the relentless gaze of congressional investigators, as the details of this unusual pardon come into public view, this reaction is bound to become less effective – yet that won't stop anyone from resorting to smears.


Indeed, one of the few columnists to bring up the Mossad-Rich connection, Taki, has now become the subject of a vicious attack by none other than his own publisher, Conrad Black, who owns the Spectator, whom he absurdly compares to Goebbels. Taki's crime? Simply relaying information that ought to be not at all surprising, given Rich's longstanding and well-known relationship with the Israeli intelligence agency. Black is shocked – shocked! – that anyone would suggest the US would invade another country's airspace, even in going after an international fugitive. And as for pointing to the direct intervention of the Israeli government on Rich's behalf as evidence that Washington is "Israeli-occupied territory" – that is characterized by Black as depicting the "universal Jewish ethos as brutish, vulgar, grasping and cunningly wicked." Well, uh, not exactly – but it is evidence that the Mossad looks after its own assets, and Israel looks after its perceived national interest. Not that there's anything wrong with that – if it didn't involve perverting the American political process, subverting the Constitution, and making a mockery of America around the world.


But Black would have none of this: Taki, he screeched, has uttered a "blood libel" against the Jews – for any criticism of Israel, as he makes clear in his long, rambling screed, is "stoking the fires of anti-Semitism": it seems the British media is particularly guilty of this when they portray Israel in an unfavorable light, he avers, "either consciously or unconsciously." Black seems particularly upset that Taki mentioned the frequent killing of Palestinian children barely into their teens by Israeli troops – although how this is a "blood libel" against all Jews everywhere (as opposed to those in command of the Israeli military effort) is not at all clear. Nor is it meant to be clear: the effectiveness of this type of smear is precisely in its lack of specificity. To call Taki's piece a "blood libel" – a term with a very specific, and quite horrific historical meaning – is surely a case of literary abuse virtually unparalleled in the history of author-publisher relations.


Like all smears of this type, Black's attack refers to the text of Taki's piece only minimally: in it, aside from the all-too-believable story cited above, Taki points out that a piece by him in the New York Press was censored by the editors when he said that Rich's contributions to Israel should not count as philanthropy insofar as they pay for armor-piercing bullets shot at teenagers. He also points out the main lessons of this tawdry affair, which are two-fold. First, that the little guys go to jail while the big crooks thrive – a bit of popular wisdom that seems pretty much incontestable. He relates the story of some jet-setter who was eager to attend one of Marc Rich's soirees:

"When I asked her whether she would go to a party given, say, by John Gotti, the dapper Don, as the Big Bagel tabloids refer to him, she told me it was not the same thing. 'Yes,' I said. 'Gotti is dumb and in jail; Rich, the far bigger criminal and traitor, is in St. Moritz.' That's the way it goes, sports fans. The truly big crooks get away with it and go to St. Moritz and Gstaad, the little guys go to the big house up the river."


The absurdity of the charge of anti-Semitism leveled against Taki – and, presumably, against anyone who asks questions about the pivotal role played by Israel and its supporters in this affair – is underscored by the above. For if we look at Rich as just another gangster, a more "legitimate" and slick version of some Mafia chieftain, then the charge of religious or ethnic bigotry is put in its proper context. What if the Italian government had mobilized all its resources to get John Gotti a presidential pardon? What if the head of the Italian Anti-Defamation League – if there is such a group – had played an instrumental role in all this, along with the mayor of Rome and the Italian Prime Minister – not to mention Luciano Pavarotti and Sophia Loren? A presidential pardon in this case would have unleashed an equivalent storm of protest – at the very least! – and the intervention of the Italian government would have been denounced far and wide. These unusual circumstances would definitely become the subject of at least one congressional investigation, if not a criminal probe – and, in this case, the cry of "discrimination" or "bigotry" against Italians just wouldn't wash, now would it?


The exposure of this curious double-standard has been a long time coming. Behavior that would not be tolerated in any other country, never mind a close ally – and recipient of billions in foreign aid – has long been actively encouraged by the US government, and that is what this sorry episode has proved beyond a doubt. As Taki put it, elucidating the second lesson of the Marc Rich affair:.

"[Rich] also proved what we, soi-disant anti-Semites for daring to protest about soldiers shooting at kids, always knew. The way to Uncle Sam's heart runs through Tel Aviv and Israeli-occupied territory. Rich and Clinton deserve each other. Both make everyone around them seem bigger."


In his diatribe against his own columnist, Black absurdly claims that by describing himself as a "soi-disant anti-Semite" Taki had "admitted his anti-Semitism." Will somebody please tell this rube what soi-disant means? This is what happens when a publisher takes to writing for his own publications – nobody dares to edit him, and the result is often an embarrassment. Taki takes Black to task in his rebuttal, and makes mincemeat of the grotesquely overstated attempt to destroy his reputation – although Black still gets in the last word in a dishonest addendum – but the point is how many of his fellow conservatives will speak up on his behalf?


Rich's role as a money-launderer for ex-Soviet apparatchiks who spirited billions out of Russia – most of that coming out of US taxpayers' wallets – and his value to the former East Germany, which once offered $250 million in cash if the US would drop the charges against him, makes it obvious that the pardoning process in this case was not a negotiation between a government and a private individual. Rich is no ordinary private individual, and not only on account of his great wealth: for chief among his assets are his political connections with foreign governments, including not only Israel but in Russia where he wields enormous influence. The merger of his commodities business with the Russian Alfa group, run by billionaire oligarch Mikhael Fridman, was recently announced: Rich and Fridman, along with a passel of ex-Commies, succeeded in stripping the assets of the old USSR and spiriting them out of the country. Through a series of maneuvers, both legal and perhaps otherwise, they established a virtual monopoly over Russia's rich aluminum industry, and soon began to move into other areas. The point is that Rich has access to more resources than many foreign governments, and, in any case, the extended negotiations that began as early as last year were conducted, on Rich's behalf, by at least one foreign government, Israel. Now, Ehud Barak is telling us that, contrary to the testimony of three Clinton aides, he didn't phone Clinton three times to plead Rich's case – it was only once, and then only at the end of a long conversation as a kind of afterthought. But there can be little doubt that Israel, acting in concert with a variety of private interests, both here and abroad, launched a major campaign to free a man who had flouted US law enforcement for 17 years, thumbing his nose at America from the alpine safety of his Swiss hideaway. Why?


If it is now considered "anti-Semitic" to express the least bit of curiosity about the answer to this question, then an awful lot of American Jews are going to be put in that category. "Israeli officials have absolutely no business in this kind of enterprise," averred Martin Begun, formerly head of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council. "It wasn't in Israeli interests, and it certainly wasn't in American Jewish interests. By any definition, it was harmful meddling." But not according to the Weekly Standard: an article in that neoconservative flagship by Christopher Caldwell compares the degree of influence wielded by Israel in this case to the lobbying efforts of Mexico on behalf of Mexican immigrants: "So Israel's intervention constitutes a mildly insulting interference with American government, similar to, though of a lesser degree than, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo's strident public opposition to California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. Clinton responded to Zedillo's provocation by ignoring it, not by citing it as an excuse for his own opposition to Proposition 187."


Say what? How is billionaire Marc Rich in any way equivalent to some illegal immigrant who owns only the clothes on his back? This sorely lacks the balance of a good analogy. Is it only a "mild" insult to the American system of justice to reward an international fugitive who has spit in the face of his own country by renouncing his citizenship? We have come to a sorry pass indeed if the absurdity of this needs to be explained to a writer for an ostensibly conservative periodical.


Caldwell dismisses the reasons stated by Israeli and Jewish-American leaders – mostly Rich's philanthropic activities in Israel, and his generosity to Jewish organizations – as being ample and sufficient reason for their support to the fugitive's cause. It wasn't out of a sense that Rich had been unjustly accused (none disputed the facts of the case, or claimed religious or ethnic persecution); it wasn't for money – Caldwell rightly points out that "Israel is not alone in its use of Rich's philanthropic largesse"; and it wasn't on account of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, either (Barak was demanding freedom for Jonathan Pollard, it seems, not Rich). But, strangely, Caldwell gives no alternative reasons for this fulsome and very well-organized support. These pardons "were about Clinton and only about Clinton," he insists, but this is obviously not the case: they were also, indubitably, about Marc Rich. What is it about this man that inspired such loyalty, not only from his paid retainers but also from a large unpaid contingent of apologists, what you might call his American amen corner?


Clinton claimed on the Gerald Rivera show the other day that the lobbying by Israeli officials and dignitaries had a "profound" effect on his decision to grant the pardon. Here is the perfect camouflage, the best way to cover up this whole affair: for who would ever believe that, for once in his life, our ex-President is telling the truth? Yet the different strands of the Marc Rich story – stretching from New York to Switzerland, from the former Soviet Union to Tel Aviv, from the Oval Office to the steppes of Central Asia – form a web that seems to have caught at least one American President in its silken threads. This could not be a better position for the Republicans, who can sit back and watch the ritual humiliation of their old enemy – whilst piously calling for the media (and the Burton committee) to "move on." But the GOP, no less than the Democrats, is less than eager to open this can of worms: for any inquiry into the influence of foreign lobbyists on the US government is bound to have unpleasant consequences on both sides of the aisle. The uncomfortable look on Dick Cheney's face this [Sunday] morning, as he was being asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about "Scooter" Libby's testimony should put us all on notice: this is one "investigation" that seems fated to go nowhere.


Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and professional talking head, is going around saying that Clinton is trying to "blame it on the Jews." "This," snorts Kristol, "is a new low, even for him." But this will not do. Clinton, who parses his words with lawyerly precision, did not say "the Jews" had a "profound" effect on his decision, but that "Israel" did – and the two are far from identical. Those who put the interests of a foreign government above their own are not going to get off as easily as that – no matter what their ethnicity or religion. Unless, of course, the investigation into the Rich pardon is nipped in the bud, or diverted into a dead end.


Far be it from me to defend Clinton, but I truly doubt whether, among his other foibles, he harbors a secret fondness for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Nobody is blaming "the Jews" for anything: but the government of Israel, and its American amen corner – not an exclusively Jewish preserve, by any means – must be held accountable for their reckless intervention in this outrageous case. Someone, somehow, must finally hold this lobby, and its foreign sponsor, to account: this incident shows that Washington truly is, as both Taki and Pat Buchanan put it, "Israeli-occupied territory" – and it is high time something was done about it. That is why we need a real investigation. We don't need to "move on," we need to find out how and why an American president made a mockery out of the rule of law and the Constitution. As more facts come to light, and the furor mounts, it is becoming clear that – no matter how much money Rich might have funneled into the Clintonian presidential library – the damage to Clinton's reputation (let alone the Democratic party) would hardly be worth any amount of money.


Yesterday, the anti-Clinton conservatives were saying that he would do anything for a "legacy" – today, they're telling us that he would eagerly trade that legacy for less than half a million in cash, the amount Denise Rich is said to have given (not counting a cool million over the years). But you can't have it both ways. Having accepted a bribe, especially one so easily traceable, his library would then be the repository of his final defeat. Surely the irony of this could not have escaped someone as clever as Clinton, who could easily have foreseen and avoided such a fate.


There are many questions raised by the ongoing investigations that many in Washington and elsewhere would just as soon not have answered. Before this is over, phony charges of "anti-Semitism" will be made against anyone who dares to question the role of Israel and its supporters in America in this horrific miscarriage of justice – but that tactic didn't work with Pat Buchanan, it won't work with Taki, and it won't work with ordinary Americans of any ethnicity, including many prominent Jews, who want to know why an American president obeyed the demands of a foreign government over the demands of justice.

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The Myth of the Saddam Bomb

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).


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