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Justice Department to probe Clinton's 11th-hour pardons

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Justice Department investigators headed by a New York City prosecutor will look into all of former President Clinton's last-minute pardons, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft broadened U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White's existing review of at least three cases to include all 177 clemencies and commutations granted by Clinton on the last day of his presidency, the paper said, quoting an anonymous Justice Department official.

White's Manhattan office already is investigating three cases: the pardon of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich, commutations for four Hasidic Jews convicted of fraud, and the allegation that Clinton's brother, Roger, received up to $200,000 for promising to help a Texas man win a pardon.

Among the cases in her expanded purview is that of convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali, whose father is a Democratic contributor. Los Angeles leaders supported Vignali's early prison release, and U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas in Los Angeles phoned the White House on behalf of the Vignali family.

The Vignali commutation also is under scrutiny because of the role of Clinton's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, who was paid $200,000 by Vignali's father, Horacio Vignali, to help get his son released from prison after serving six years of a 15-year sentence. Rodham later returned the money.

Mayorkas told the Times he would seek Justice Department guidance on how his office should work with the New York U.S. attorney.

"I would have to consult with the department as to how they deem it might be proper to proceed," Mayorkas said.

The plan approved by Ashcroft calls for White to review all of the questionable clemencies. She then would decide whether to prosecute those cases that might have criminal exposure or to refer any evidence she gathers to other jurisdictions around the country.

White's office declined to comment to the Times about her expanded role.