Another surprise: FBI releases files on Bill Clinton's 2001 pardon

Former President and Founding Chairman of the Clinton Global Initiative Bill Clinton speaking during the Plenary Session II: Reconciliation and a Shared Society.
Former President and Founding Chairman of the Clinton Global Initiative Bill Clinton speaking during the Plenary Session II: Reconciliation and a Shared Society. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • The FBI has unexpectedly released documents concerning former US president Bill Clinton's pardon of the husband of a wealthy Democratic donor, in another surprise move just days before the election in which his wife is seeking to become America's first female president.

The release of the heavily redacted 129-page report over the pardon of trader Marc Rich - an investigation that closed in 2005 without charges - triggered questions from Democrats already angered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe into hundreds of thousands of newly uncovered e-mails possibly linked to Mrs Hillary Clinton.

While the Rich documents were published online on Monday, they received little notice until they were posted on Tuesday on a Twitter account for the FBI's division managing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that had had no posts since a year ago, except for a small handful released simultaneously on Sunday.

"Absent a FOIA litigation deadline, this is odd," said Mrs Clinton's spokesman Brian Fallon.

"Will FBI be posting docs on Trump's housing discrimination in the 70s?" he added on Twitter, referring to Mrs Clinton's Republican rival Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate magnate.

On Oct 7 the FBI did post eight pages of documents relating to Mr Trump's father, Fred. That file included a March 28, 1966 memo to then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover requesting that a cheque be issued to Mr Fred Trump, "whose deposition is being taken (on) March 31 in connection with a tax case".

The FBI noted that the Rich documents were posted shortly after they were processed, as with FOIA materials requested three or more times. This was only a "preliminary" release, and could be followed by more, the FBI added.

Mr Rich was indicted on federal charges of tax evasion in the United States. He was a fugitive from the Department of Justice and was at a time one of the FBI's most wanted, living in exile in Switzerland at the time of his indictment. He died there in 2013. In a controversial move, Mr Clinton pardoned him on his last day in office on Jan 20, 2001. The FBI opened its investigation into the pardon later that year.

Mr Rich's former wife Denise Eisenberg Rich, whose name was redacted from the FBI files, "has been a major political donor to the Democratic Party, and these donations may have been intended to influence the fugitive's pardon", reads a bureau note requesting that a preliminary investigation be opened.

"It appears that the required pardon standards and procedures were not followed," reads the FBI document dated Feb 15, 2001. The Rich case fell under the watch of current FBI director James Comey, then a younger prosecutor.

The FBI document dump comes as Mr Comey is under fire, from both Democrats and some Republicans, for effectively reopening in recent days the bureau's investigation into Mrs Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state, after a new trove of hundreds of thousands of e-mails were apparently found on a laptop taken from Mr Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Mrs Clinton's close aide Huma Abedin, in a separate inquiry.

Those e-mails should be reviewed because they could be relevant to the earlier probe into whether Mrs Clinton mishandled classified information, Mr Comey said in a letter to Congress last Friday.

His decision departed from FBI's longstanding policy not to publicise investigations that had the possibility of affecting major elections, The New York Times reported.

In recent months, the FBI chose to keep quiet about two separate investigations, the newspaper reported on Tuesday. They included a probe last summer into Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his secretive business dealings in Ukraine, and another investigation into Mrs Clinton's relationships with donors to her family's foundation. Mr Comey's letter has plunged the FBI and the Justice Department directly into the election.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Another surprise: FBI releases files on Bill Clinton's 2001 pardon'. Print Edition | Subscribe