WASHINGTON — Three former top White House aides went before a congressional panel Thursday to testify about the final days of frantic deliberations on former President Bill Clinton's controversial last-minute pardon spree.
Former White House counsel Beth Nolan, chief of staff John Podesta and adviser Bruce Lindsey were to tell the House Government Reform Committee about the contacts and decisionmaking used in the pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich that has sparked two congressional investigations and a federal criminal probe.
Clinton, hoping to put the pardons scandal to rest, waived any executive privilege claims and gave his aides approval to testify freely before the panelThursday, even though they are expected to say they opposed the pardon.
Testimony and documents in the congressional probes indicate there was considerable debate over the Rich pardon in the final days of Clinton's presidency.
"He got advice that this was controversial and he got advice against doing this," Podesta said earlier.
The House panel subpoenaed the three aides in its widening investigation of possible influence peddling or links between campaign donations and the pardon of Rich and others on Clinton's last day in office. Rich's ex-wife Denise gave more than $1 million to Democratic causes and $450,000 to the Clinton library.
Committee investigators got a peek Wednesday at the names of donors who contributed more than $5,000 to the library and won an agreement from Clinton attorney David Kendall for a broader review of donors investigators suspect might be linked to the pardon of Rich or others.
The committee had subpoenaed information on all donors contributing more than $5,000 to the Clinton library fund and threatened library officials with contempt if they did not comply.
Kendall resisted the request, citing privacy concerns, but agreed to allow investigators to see more information, including dates and total donation amounts, on donors selected by committee investigators.
The deal means the committee will not call Skip Rutherford, the library foundation's president, to testify.
But still scheduled to appear before the panel is former Democratic National Committee finance chairwoman Beth Dozoretz, who has informed investigators that she will invoke her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refuse to answer committee questions.
The probe of Rich, who fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading charges, has expanded to look at other pardons and sentence commutations by Clinton.
Among the other cases being probed are those of a convicted swindler and a major cocaine dealer who paid some $400,000 to Hugh Rodham, Clinton's brother-in-law, to advance their bids for clemency.
Rodham ultimately gave the money back after Clinton and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton complained.
Adding to the pardon controversy, the New York Times reported Thursday that a Tennessee couple convicted of bank fraud were pardoned a year ago by Clinton with the help of Hillary Clinton's other brother, Tony Rodham.
The pardon of carnival company owners Edgar Allen Gregory and his wife, Vonna Jo, was given despite objections from the Justice Department, the paper said. Tony Rodham was not paid for his efforts.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he sent a letter to Clinton inviting him to a private interview as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee's look into the pardons. He said the approach could avoid the "circus-like atmosphere" of a full hearing.