A last-minute visit?

Denise Rich was cleared as a White House guest on the final night of the Clinton presidency; a former DNC figure pleads the Fifth in pardon probe; Bush readies for his big night.

Published February 27, 2001 12:16PM (EST)

As congressional investigators prepare for hearings later this week on former President Clinton's last-minute pardons, more details are emerging about the White House comings and goings of Denise Rich, ex-wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was pardoned on the final day of the Clinton presidency. She was cleared as a White House guest the night before the pardon was granted, though reports conflict about whether she actually showed up. Rich visited the Executive Mansion more than a dozen times throughout Clinton's presidency.

This information is mixed news for those determined to prove a quid pro quo in the Rich pardon. The disputed pardon-eve visit, combined with Denise Rich's $1 million in donations to the Democratic Party, is likely to fuel Republican speculation that Clinton was pressured into a pardon as payback, but the overall number of Rich White House visits -- fewer than 20 over Clinton's eight years in office -- is quite a comedown from the numbers that Clinton's critics have been batting around recently. Conservative pundits had previously speculated that Rich visited the White House 100 times in the last year of Clinton's presidency.

Another frequent White House visitor and Rich friend has refused to testify before Congress on the pardon matter. Beth Dozoretz, a former Democratic National Committee official, sent word to Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., that she would not testify before the House Government Reform Committee hearing this week. Dozoretz, on advice of counsel, asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Dozoretz was a prolific Democratic fundraiser who lobbied the president to pardon Rich.

President Bush visits Congress on Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST to address a joint session of the House and Senate. Though the White House insists that his message will be quick and to the point, Republicans are hoping that Bush will make a bold statement on behalf of his tax cut and other fiscal priorities. Bush is also likely to address concerns about paying down the national debt that ideological opponents in Congress have cited as a drawback to his planned tax cut.

A new poll indicates that Bush could do a better job of selling his tax plan to the American public. Only 22 percent of Americans surveyed by ABC News and the Washington Post say that tax cuts are a top priority.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:45 a.m. PST, Feb. 27, 2001]

When then-presidential candidate George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his veep, there was talk that Cheney would become the real White House power. Well, Cheney hasn't staged a palace coup, but he does have his troops in place for congressional battles. Cheney's planned congressional office is another step in what many administration critics see as a parallel power structure for the vice president. The veep has his own GOP celebrity advisor, former CNN talking head Mary Matalin, and has a closer connection to two key Bush Cabinet officers -- Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld -- than the president has.

Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported on Monday that Cheney is setting up his own congressional affairs office. While it is normal for a vice president to have his own informal congressional operation, the formality of Cheney's arrangement is unprecedented, as it will mirror the staffing of the White House's legislative office, and will even have its own office space on the House side of the Capitol.

"I think it's quite unusual," said Stephen Hess, senior fellow of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution. Hess believes that Cheney's more hands-on approach to relations with Congress represents a major change from the last administration, and that Bill Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, would never have been able to pull off such a move. "Senators are very prickly about somebody from the executive branch having a foot in their camp," Hess said. "The fact that Cheney can do this shows that he's still got a lot of friends in Congress. Al Gore was not a particularly clubable guy."

But Hess believes that there's no reason to accuse Cheney of overstepping his bounds. "The important thing to remember is that Cheney works for the president's team," Hess said. "He's not an unguided missile." Cheney's spokeswoman, Juleanna Glover Weiss, dismissed the notion that the vice president's new link to Congress demonstrates a parallel power structure, insisting that the office will serve as "a second pair of eyes" in Congress for the White House. "The vice president hasn't done anything that the president hasn't wanted him to do," she said.
-- Alicia Montgomery [2:30 p.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2001]

Clinton-video conspiracy doesn't track

With the Republican Congress prepared to restart hearings into former President Clinton's last-minute pardons, Net gossip Matt Drudge Monday went with a dramatic news flash: "Clinton Caught on Tape: McAuliffe's Private Videos May Hold Pardon Insights; Handy-Cam Captured Last Days."

But a DNC official claims the footage doesn't deliver quite the punch that Drudge would expect. "In addition to the shots of Clinton, there's compelling footage of the McAuliffe children's birthday parties, school assemblies and a family vacation," said the source. The official insisted that McAuliffe used most of the videotape in question to make home movies, and there wasn't any actual presidential material on the tape at all, strictly speaking.

"This is a video about citizen Clinton, not President Clinton," he said, declaring that the camera started rolling after Clinton left the White House on Inauguration Day, and that, consequently, there would be nothing on the tape about presidential pardons.
-- Alicia Montgomery [2 p.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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