A "heartbroken" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed shock on Thursday that her brother Hugh Rodham got $400,000 for urging clemency for two felons who were pardoned by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
But the former first lady said she was unaware of the payments to Rodham, which have subsequently been returned. Indeed, she said she knew nothing about the payments until Monday evening, and still had not spoken to her brother.
"I was very disappointed and saddened by this whole matter," Clinton, a Democrat, told a crush of reporters on Capitol Hill. "It came as a surprise to me and it was very disturbing." She added that she was "heartbroken and shocked."
Asked if she blamed political enemies for the controversies that have dogged her since being sworn in as New York's junior senator last month, she said, "Not at all," but when asked specifically whom she did blame, Clinton replied, "I think my brother made a terrible misjudgment."
In response to pointed questions about the alleged desertion of fellow Democrats after the last-minute pardons and other post-White House controversies, the senator said she did not find this to be the case.
However, she acknowledged a certain level of unwelcome focus on her and her husband, and defended the Clinton administration.
"Look, I think that we are apparently ... people who attract a lot of attention, and that's both good and bad," she said. "The two terms that my husband had as president were good for this country. I think, even standing here today, he did a good job for America. And we had a lot of good, positive things happening."
"DISAPPOINTED" ABOUT BROTHER'S ROLE
Former President Clinton on Wednesday disclosed two felons to whom he granted clemency on his last day in office paid legal fees to his brother-in-law. But he denied he had prior knowledge of the payments and insisted the money be returned.
In response to questions about the latest uproar over the presidential pardons, Sen. Clinton said, "I did not have any involvement in the pardons that were granted or not granted and I'm just very disappointed about my brother's involvement."
Rodham's lawyer Nancy Luque said in a statement that her client never told the Clintons he was involved in the pardon requests. He returned the money because his family asked him to, Luque said.
"Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore," Luque said. "There was, however, no impropriety in these matters."
Sen. Clinton has consistently referred questions about the last-minute pardons to her husband's staff, and did so again.
A short time after she spoke, President George W. Bush reiterated his hope the pardon questions could ???"As far as this White House is concerned, it's time to go forward," Bush said at a televised news conference. "I've got too much to do ... to be worrying about decisions that my predecessor made."
CLEMENCY IN MAIL FRAUD AND COCAINE CASESOne of the felons represe??? who had their sentences shortened.
Braswell was pardoned for a 1983 mail fraud co???ind bars.
Vignali had his sentence commuted after serving six years of a 15-year sentence for his involvement in a Los Angeles-Minneapolis cocaine trafficking ring.
The two congressional committees already investigating the last minute pardons, particularly the one he gave to fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, have announced plans to examine the transactions.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is heading the Senate Judiciary Committee probe, said he wanted to talk to Braswell, Vignali and others about "irregularities in the pardon process," according to a spokesman.
Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, bluntly accused Hugh Rodham of "influence peddling. That's it pure and simple," he told MSNBC.
Clinton said she knew nothing of the Rich pa???ople would hand me envelopes, I would just pass them. You know, I would not have any reason to look into them. I knew nothing about the Marc Rich pardon until after it happened."
Burton was skeptical. "I cannot believe that the first lady and the president did not know about that," Burton said. "We're going to dig to get to the bottom of this."
On another matter, Sen. Clinton said she had no direct knowledge of actions reportedly taken by her Senate campaign treasurer, attorney William Cunningham III, on behalf of two others who received eleventh-hour clemency from her husband.
But she drew a distinction between Cunningham's "background and experience" and her brother, who "as a family member, should not have been involved in this situation."