We want to forget Bill Clinton, really we do. But he simply refuses to go away. In one of his latest returns to public discourse, Clinton is vociferously denying claims that he granted a pardon to billionaire financier Marc Rich in exchange for political contributions from Rich’s ex-wife, Denise. “There was absolutely no quid pro quo,” Clinton wrote in the New York Times on Sunday, insisting that Denise Rich’s $450 million donation to his library fund was unrelated to the pardon.
What, then, were his justifications for pardoning Rich for his $48 million evasion of taxes, fraud and illegal oil deals with Iran? Clinton gave eight reasons, mostly related to what he believed was a mishandling of the case, such as trying it in criminal not civil court. His decision, he said, was also influenced by support from high-ranking Israeli officials who spoke highly of Rich’s contributions to hospitals and charities in the region.
An interesting story, indeed, but all too difficult to stomach. Certainly there were numerous other criminal cases that, like Rich’s, might have been tried in civil court. Why were these not given the same treatment by Clinton? Perhaps because they did not stand out by virtue of a major campaign contribution.
In this way, it is likely that the financial support and kindness that the Rich family had shown him entered into his considerations — even if there was not an explicit deal, as Clinton legalistically argues. It is this special treatment of monied interests that is most distasteful. Bordering on legalized bribery, it demonstrates Clinton’s disregard for justice and his unending desire to “follow the money.”
This is a man who fled authorities without remorse, refused even to stand trial for the charges leveled against him, renounced his U.S. citizenship, and harbored himself in Switzerland, free from extradition. In doing so, he snubbed the government, made a mockery of the American justice system, and declared himself above the law, apparently by virtue of his great wealth.
And what is his punishment? A pardon from Clinton, who once again revealed his lack of sound judgment.
This entire debacle has unequivocally exposed vintage Clinton, a president who held no regard for the law, who abused his power with reckless abandon, who lied when it was convenient. It is entirely insulting that he felt no shame, no sense of accountability in making these and other decisions, acting as though he had so cleverly pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Yet even in the midst of all of this controversy, Clinton is not embarrassed in the least, continuing to grasp at whatever attention he can gather. Sadly, the public is not yet fed up with his name. His trips to local coffee shops make the nightly news; he continues to speak on issues ranging from the situation in the Middle East to domestic policy; he makes a public display out of the selection of his office space. Compare this to the quiet behavior of every other living former president, all content to embrace their lives as private citizens.
Not Clinton. His reluctance to resume a private life and his inability to let go of the trappings of public celebrity clearly demonstrate his obsession with power. The Rich pardon scandal, added to a growing list of Clintonian indiscretions, is but another manifestation of his thirst to wield, exercise and even abuse authority. It is another example of the public trust betrayed, a sorry example set.
All this serves at least one purpose. It illuminates what will be the lasting legacy of Clinton’s presidency: Outrage.
William Edwards is a junior in Pierson College. His columns appear on alternate Mondays.