WASHINGTON (JTA) — Pardoning Marc Rich was "a mistake," President-elect Barack Obama said.
President Bill Clinton pardoned the financier on the eve of Clinton’s departure from office in 2001. Rich had moved to Switzerland in the early 1980s, fleeing racketeering and tax evasion charges. He sought the pardon because he wanted to return to the United States.
Making his case were his ex-wife, Denise Rich, a major contributor to Clinton’s presidential library; and a number of top Israeli and U.S. Jewish officials who cited Rich’s charitable contributions to a number of Israeli causes, including promoting peace.
Eric Holder, then the deputy attorney general and now Obama’s nominee for attorney general, shepherded the pardon through the Justice Department, although the decision was Clinton’s. Holder’s role has led to some criticism of Obama’s choice.
"Everybody who looks at his record says the guy was an outstanding attorney, an outstanding prosecutor, an outstanding judge, an outstanding No. 2 at the Justice Department,” Obama said of Holder in an interview in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune, his first with a newspaper since his election. "And Eric has acknowledged the Rich pardon was a mistake on his part, not having caught that earlier. I agree with him. I think it was a mistake. But when you look at the totality of his experience, there’s no doubt he’s going to be an outstanding attorney general."
The notoriety of the pardon kept Rich from returning to the United States.