Fran Townsend has been peddling an alternate reality version of how Eric Holder came to OK the Marc Rich pardon.
Holder "got a last-minute phone call" from the Clinton White House to vet Rich, Townsend told CNN, where she is a contributor.
"He was put in a horrible position," Townsend said, adding that Holder was being criticized unfairly in the Rich matter.
The charitable view is that Ms. Townsend’s imagination has won some battle with her memory. The less charitable view is that her years in the Bush White House have caused her to adopt one of their more famous mottos, "Reality? We don’t need no stinkin’ reality, we make our own reality!"
While I never bought that story and had previously heard, via the Foley Square grapevine, that Holder had deliberately hidden the pardon application from USAO SDNY so they would not have an opportunity to protest, I did not know just how far his advocacy on behalf of Marc Rich, when he was supposed to be working on behalf of the American people, actually went.
In an OpEd piece in the Saturday NYTimes George Lardner, Jr. submits what appears to be an extraordinarily well researched history of the Holder involvement in trying to get extra special treatment for Marc Rich.
In 1999, Mr. Rich hired Jack Quinn, who had been Mr. Clinton’s White House counsel from 1995 to 1996, to help him advance his cause. The Rich team was still hoping to strike a deal with federal prosecutors in New York, who were in charge of the case. An e-mail message to Mr. Rich from one of his New York lawyers said that Mr. Quinn felt “he could convince Eric that it made sense to listen to the professors and that he could convince Eric to encourage Mary Jo to do the same.” The “professors” were two tax experts paid more than $96,000 for a study based solely on statements provided them by the Rich legal team; “Mary Jo” was Mary Jo White, the United States attorney in New York.
Holder reportedly told Quinn that SDNY’s position was ridiculous–an interesting comment coming from within the Justice Department, to say the least.
Mr. Holder told Mr. Quinn to write a letter to Ms. White with a copy to him, and promised to call her when it arrived. Mr. Holder then called Ms. White personally and, after that conversation, told Mr. Quinn she “didn’t sound like her guard was up.” But New York stood firm.
New York’s position was consistent with the written guidelines on pardons which do not allow pardons for people while they remain fugitives.
On Nov. 18, 2000, Mr. Quinn told Mr. Holder that Mr. Rich was going to go for a pardon, a step his team had been contemplating for months. After the conversation, Mr. Quinn told colleagues that Mr. Holder had advised him to “go straight to” the White House and that the “timing is good.”
What’s this you say? Go directly to the White House? Bypass the DOJ Office of Pardon Attorney? What an extraordinary thing for a high ranking DOJ official to say!
“The greatest danger lies with the lawyers,” Mr. Quinn wrote in an e-mail message to an aide to Mr. Rich, referring to the prosecutors in New York. “I have worked them hard and I am hopeful that E. Holder will be helpful to us.”
Well it turns out that the prosecutors in NY never got a chance to be a danger, because NO ONE TOLD THEM ABOUT THE PARDON APPLICATION. You see, if the pardon application had gone to the Office of Pardon Attorney like a normal pardon, the Pardon Attorney would have, as per written procedure, solicited the opinion of the USAO which originated the case. Of course, Holder arranged for Marc Rich to bypass the Pardon Attorney and never told the US Attorney for SDNY that there was a pardon application in the air.
Under the rules governing pardon petitions — rules that were approved by Mr. Holder’s office — the views of United States attorneys “are given considerable weight” because of the “valuable insights” they have. And yet Mr. Holder did not consult Ms. White and her colleagues about the Rich pardon petition; they did not know of it until it had been granted.
The people in the United States attorney’s office in New York weren’t the only ones surprised by Mr. Holder’s decision. Deborah Smolover, his top deputy for pardon cases, did not find out about the pardon for Mr. Rich until the White House called to inform her of it after midnight on Jan. 20. (Mr. Green won a pardon, too.) After the pardon was signed, Mr. Quinn has testified, Mr. Holder called him to commend him on “a very good job.” Mr. Holder also asked Mr. Quinn to consider hiring two former aides, one of whom had already contacted Mr. Quinn on Jan. 2 “at Holder’s suggestion.”
Go read the NYTimes piece. It’s quite the smackdown of Ms. Townsend’s fairy tale version.