In the last paragraph of this otherwise uneventful Newsweek article by Mike Isikoff the author starts to get at what I at least find most interesting about the Marc Rich pardon.
That’s the way Jack Quinn seemed to play on Clinton’s experience with/paranoia/fury about federal prosecutors and what it is like to be caught in their sites.
In their appeals to Clinton, Quinn and Denise Rich tried to win sympathy for Rich by tapping into the president’s own resentment toward the zealous prosecutors who had dogged him for years. Quinn portrayed Rich as the victim of a “highly publicized and aggressive investigation.” Denise Rich laid it on even thicker, saying she knew “what it feels like to see the press try and convict the accused without regard for the truth.” Sources close to Clinton say these arguments hit home. “I think Clinton wanted to pardon all of them,” says one lawyer of the applicants tugging on his sleeve. “He just can’t stand law enforcement.”
Each of the articles published on the Rich drama have either paraphrased or quoted the arguments that Quinn made to Clinton. And they are in the nature of … this man was persecuted by an out of control federal prosecutor, who just wanted to bring down Marc Rich, who tried him in the press, etc.
In other words, this poor Marc Rich fellow was in the same kind of jam you were in, etc., cut the guy the some slack!
Now Jack Quinn was Clinton’s White House Counsel until just months before the Lewinsky scandal and, if I recall rightly, extremely loyal to him and close to him during the scandal. On the one hand there’s an obvious payback angle here — Clinton felt he owed Quinn big time. But I get the sense that having weathered that storm together, Quinn had a lot of emotional pull with Clinton to equate the two cases and make Clinton feel a vicarious sympathy for the Rich.
Now there’s no sense diminishing the money and influence-peddling aspect of this. Without all the money that had changed hands these folks wouldn’t have been close enough to Clinton to make their case. And without his close relationship with Clinton Quinn wouldn’t have had the pull with him to make the case either. But looking at it all together these look much more like necessary than sufficient conditions. The access and frienships cemented through fund-raising and the Quinn connection got Rich to the door. And Denise Rich was clearly hard for Clinton to say ‘no’ to. But I suspect it was this more personal equation that actually got Clinton to pull the trigger.
I’ve also always heard from people who know Clinton that he’s just a bit of a sucker for rich people. Not so much in the craven sense of begging donations. But at some deeper level of personal insecurity or sense of being wowed by great wealth.
I don’t know if I completely buy into this latter explanation. But it’s likely part of the mix as well.
The preceding is a slightly-modified article pitch I wrote about ten days ago and it still pretty much captures my sense of what happened in the Rich case.