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Whatever the future of the Clinton pardon mess, former White House Counsel Jack Quinn and the other lawyers who got fugitive tax cheat Marc Rich his get-out-of-jail-free card are a good bet for landing safely on their feet. But that’s not so for clumsy Clinton brother-in-law Hugh Rodham. The south Florida lawyer and former public defender tried to stretch the envelope of legitimate fee arrangements by charging swindler and baldness cure promoter Almon Glenn Braswell a contingency fee that earned Rodham $200,000 when Braswell’s pardon was granted. There is an ongoing money-laundering investigation of Braswell, who paid Rodham from a foreign bank account. Rodham is too greedy, too transparent and too far removed from the inner circle of Washington attorneys who instinctively know just how far they can go without running afoul of the law themselves. After the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer started snooping into the $400,000 that Rodham earned from Braswell and cocaine entrepreneur Carlos Vignali Jr., Rodham was forced to return whatever money he still had. The Florida Bar reportedly has begun a preliminary ethics inquiry into his activities. No officials are suggesting that Quinn pay back Rich his fees. The District of Columbia Bar is more likely to ask Quinn to teach a continuing legal education seminar on how to put the “quid” in quid pro quo than to investigate any of his activities. The practice of law in the District of Columbia includes playing upon close professional and personal relationships with high government officials. Quinn was Clinton’s White House counsel during the impeachment proceedings. He helped write the White House ethics guidelines barring lobbying by former staffers for five years. He claims that the rules did not apply to his Rich efforts, because they involved legal representation and not lobbying. (In a separate act of civic hypocrisy, Clinton dumped his administration’s ethics rules shortly before he left office, so that staffers could immediately take economic advantage of their government service once his administration left office.) The end-of-term pardons should come as no surprise. In late 1999 President Clinton commuted the sentences of a group of Puerto Rican terrorists and murderers who had expressed no remorse for their actions. That was a cynical political response to the demands of stateside Puerto Rican politicians. It was designed to build support for the party generally in areas like Chicago, Hartford and New York City that had large Puerto Rican populations. The commutations caused a huge political outrage. Even Hillary Clinton ended up calling for their rescission, which of course the president did not do. Most observers missed the subtler implications of the president’s actions, but one group paid attention. Sophisticated criminals immediately understood that the way to get a pardon was by making their case politically or personally attractive to Clinton. So Marc Rich, acting through his former wife Denise, hired the now-available Quinn to plot pardon strategy while Denise and her friend and Democratic fund-raiser Beth Dozoretz poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democratic campaigns. Denise Rich pledged $450,000 to the Clinton library. That was an indirect way to give money to Clinton himself, since the library will provide the ex-President with an Arkansas residence and other financial support. Convicted Arkansas tax cheats Robert Fain and James Manning hired New York lawyer William Cunningham III to prepare their pardon applications. Cunningham is Sen. Clinton’s campaign treasurer and the law partner of former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes. Presidential confidant Harry Thomason referred Fain and Manning to Cunningham’s law firm, and Thomason also spoke to President Clinton directly about their pardons. Cunningham successfully whisked the two through the usually labyrinthine process in a matter of days. Vignali, who had been convicted in Minnesota of transporting 800 pounds of cocaine, didn’t just hire Rodham to help with his commutation. The son of a wealthy Los Angeles Democratic contributor, he was able to enlist the unpaid efforts of California Speaker of the Assembly Robert Hertzberg, other California politicians and, astonishingly, the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles. In his book “Bribes,” 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Noonan Jr. defines a bribe as an “inducement improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be exercised gratuitously.” That’s exactly what happened time and again with the Clinton pardons, even if no laws were broken. When his major fund-raiser, his close former aide or his brother-in-law asked Clinton to pardon this or that crook, it wasn’t necessary for the suppliants to connect the dots between the act and the inducement. A pardon application prepared by Sen. Clinton’s chief moneyman says much while admitting nothing. Short of jail time, a bar investigation and a “fee-ectomy” are the best way to impress lawyer-enablers of ethically challenged politicians that their influence peddling is unpardonable. But smart lawyers can get the job done without breaking or violating any rules of professional conduct. The current pardon and commutation hubbubs will inevitably lead to calls for new laws. But these won’t deter determined politicians, who will treat any changes as just so many more regulatory speed bumps. Donations to private libraries, foundations and the like, and dealings with in-laws will continue to provide ample opportunities for inducement of those inclined to be induced. In the end, honest government requires institutions impervious to corruption and officials who don’t need a statutory rule book to explain to them the difference between public right and wrong. George M. Kraw is a San Jose, Calif., attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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