Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carol Felsenthal Headshot

Does Obama Really Want Voters to Remember Marc Rich?

Posted: Updated:

When Bill Clinton gave an out-the-White House-door pardon on January 20, 2001 to Marc Rich, the fugitive from American justice, the former president mired himself in scandal, became a pariah and a prisoner in his Chappaqua house -- Hillary quickly left for Washington and her new job in the Senate and Bill was not welcome in what's routinely called "Hillary's House" on Embassy Row because her aides did not want her soiled with Bill's latest mess.

Had Hillary been the Democrats' nominee, and if she becomes Barack Obama's running mate, billionaire commodities trader Marc Rich, accused of trading with the enemy, who remains in Switzerland, will surely raise his battered head.

So why did Barack Obama, the freshly-minted nominee, want to appoint to his vice presidential search team, Eric Holder? Holder was Janet Reno's deputy in the Clinton Justice Department who was in position to become Al Gore's Attorney General -- the first African American to hold that position -- were Gore to have taken the Oval Office in 2001.

I wrote extensively about the toxic Marc Rich pardon in my recently published book, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House. I interviewed the main player, Rich's attorney Jack Quinn, a former chief of staff to Vice President Gore and White House counsel to Bill Clinton. Quinn was retained by Rich to persuade Clinton to grant the pardon.

I also interviewed Holder, then in private law practice, who saw his chance to make history dashed when the Supreme Court gave the White House to George W. Bush. But even had Gore won, Holder, who, with Quinn, was hauled before a congressional committee, would likely never have won senate confirmation, so smelly was the Rich Pardon. Republicans and some Democrats were blasting Holder for, they charged, helping or at least not hindering Quinn in his quest to win the pardon for his client. According to this plot line, Quinn had influence with his friend Al Gore to make sure the Attorney General appointment went to Holder. Holder's critics charged but never proved -- and Holder vehemently denied all of it -- that Holder somehow helped to keep the Rich pardon petition out of the Justice Department where attorneys, presumably especially the pardon attorney, would have advised the President strongly against granting it.

I have also blogged recently about another member of the three-member advisory board -- party insider Jim Johnson.

The gist of it is that Johnson, a former CEO of the scandal-plagued Fannie Mae, was also the man who vetted, if not actually selected, two vice presidential losers: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 for Walter Mondale; the ticket was hobbled by questions about the financial deals of Ferraro's husband. (Mondale/Ferraro lost 49 states including Ferraro's home state of New York and even her congressional district). Johnson's next time in that role was for John Kerrey in 2004; the selection of John Edwards, many have written, was not a good fit; Edwards failed to carry his home state of North Carolina.

And then there's the third member, Caroline Kennedy. She seems more a symbolic, sentimental choice than a hard-nosed political choice. When her father made the difficult decision to put Lyndon Johnson on his ticket -- JFK and his brother Bobby couldn't bear LBJ--she was just a little girl. One thing is certain though; unlike Dick Cheney who played the role for "W" and suggested himself, Caroline Kennedy has no interest in the job.

Register To Vote