WASHINGTON -- Six years ago, the launch of Hillary Clinton's career in the US Senate was marred by allegations that her brothers had received payments from people pardoned by President Bill Clinton in the waning months of his presidency.
Now, in the wake of the launch of her presidential campaign, the pardon controversy has reemerged in an obscure court case in which Senator Clinton's brother Tony is battling an order to repay more than $100,000 he received from a couple pardoned by President Clinton.
Tony Rodham, who acknowledged approaching the president about a pardon for the couple, is the second of Hillary Clinton's brothers to receive money from people who were eventually pardoned by President Clinton. Hugh Rodham received $400,000 from two people, one of whom was pardoned and one whose sentence was commuted.
But while Hillary Clinton immediately expressed chagrin over the news in 2001 that Hugh received the money -- and asked him to return it -- she said Tony was "not paid," according to a congressional report. The Clinton campaign yesterday declined to comment on the case involving Tony Rodham.
Clinton critics have been seeking to revive an array of controversies, from the Whitewater land deal to the Monica Lewinsky case. The Clinton campaign has sought to depict them as old or moot cases. But the Tony Rodham case could be different because it is in court just as Senator Clinton's campaign reaches full speed.
Yesterday, US Bankruptcy Court Judge Marian Harrison of Nashville ordered Tony Rodham to respond by March 16 to the allegation that he failed to repay a loan of $107,000 from the couple pardoned by Clinton, according to attorneys involved in the case.
President Clinton's pardons have been a political issue for Hillary Clinton because of her ties to a number of the cases. In addition to the people who paid her brothers, those receiving pardons included commodities trader Marc Rich, a fugitive who was prosecuted for tax evasion by then-US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani and fled to Switzerland. Rich was pardoned after his former wife, Denise Rich, contributed heavily to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.
Controversy over the pardons was reignited last week after Hollywood mogul and former Clinton supporter David Geffen criticized the Clintons for the Rich pardon.
"It is a legitimate campaign issue," said Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law. He said that Hillary Clinton should answer questions about her brothers' and her own involvement in the pardons because "the stench of the Marc Rich pardon still stinks and it has never been adequately explained. "
The Tony Rodham lawsuit revolves around his work for a carnival company, United Shows of America, which was owned by Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory. The couple, who had been convicted of bank fraud, hired Tony Rodham as a business consultant and paid him $244,769 in salary over 2 1/2 years, according to a congressional report.
President Clinton pardoned the couple in March 2000. The Republican-controlled House Government Reform Committee issued a 2002 report that said Rodham had helped the couple obtain the pardon.
Edgar Gregory has since died, and his company is now bankrupt. The lawsuit against Tony Rodham, brought by the bankruptcy trustee, revolves around whether the Gregorys loaned Rodham $107,000, or whether that money was part of his salary. The trustee for the bankrupt estate says it was a loan that was never repaid and that, with interest, it would now be $153,000.
When Tony Rodham's involvement with the Gregorys first became public in early 2001, Hillary Clinton said that her brother had known the couple "for some time . . . he has a personal relationship with them. He was not paid."
The House Government Reform Committee report the next year, noting that Rodham had worked as a consultant to the Gregorys, said a further review should be conducted to determine whether Hillary Clinton "knew of the financial relationship between Tony Rodham and the Gregorys when Rodham was lobbying the President for pardons." The report said Hillary Clinton's "statement that Tony Rodham 'was not paid' is not accurate."
Rodham yesterday did not respond to a request for comment. In 2001, he said on CNN that he had worked as a consultant for the Gregorys but that "on the pardon issue, I never received a dime from them."
Rodham also said that he mentioned the pardon application to then-President Clinton. "Yes, I did," Rodham said. "And I have no problem saying I mentioned it to the president."
Attorneys for Rodham and the bankrupt estate said they have no plans to involve the Clintons in the case and declined to comment on the pardon.
"We are dealing with a bankrupt estate, so we are not going to be spending a lot of money to flesh out the pardon issues that are related to this," Michael Collins, the attorney for the bankrupt estate, said.
Rodham's attorney, Samuel Crocker, said in an interview yesterday that he believed the case would be settled. Crocker said he had "no interest" in involving the Clintons in the proceeding or delving into the pardon.
Groups critical of the Clintons have tied the case to questions about the pardons. Judicial Watch, a group that has targeted the Clintons for years, said the bankruptcy proceeding should prompt the Justice Department to review the circumstances of the pardon.
But a Justice Department official wrote to Judicial Watch on Jan. 16 that "it is likely that any new allegations would be outside of the five-year statute of limitations period."
Judicial Watch last year tried to obtain unredacted documents related to the pardon of the Gregorys but were rebuffed by the Bush administration, which said releasing them would violate executive privilege.
The Clinton pardons were a major scandal in early 2001, as Hillary was beginning her term. She said she and the president did not know her brother Hugh had received $400,000 in fees from two people, one of whom received a commutation and one a pardon. Hugh Rodham has said he returned the money.
The Rich pardon received the most attention. Rich had been indicted in 1983 on charges of tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran. Rich fled to Switzerland and never stood trial.
Before Rich received the pardon in January 2001, his former wife, Denise Rich, contributed $70,000 to a fund supporting Hillary Clinton's Senate bid, and also made a large contribution to the Clinton presidential library.
President Clinton has said he pardoned Rich at the behest of Israeli officials, and has denied any wrongdoing.