WASHINGTON -- On March 30 in Newark, N.J., lawyers from the conservative Judicial Watch organization met representatives of four U.S. attorneys with an offer in behalf of an unusual client. Peter Paul, a colorful Hollywood entrepreneur under Justice Department investigation for stock manipulation, would give information to prosecutors if he could return briefly from Sao Paulo, Brazil, without fear of arrest. Included was his claimed contribution, unreported to federal authorities, of nearly $2 million to Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2000 campaign.
Two months of silence was broken June 12 when Alan Vinegrad, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn), brought a securities fraud indictment against Paul. No interest was shown in the proffer. The Clinton administration pattern appears to be continuing in the Bush administration. Donors, not recipients, of specious political contributions are prosecuted.
The Justice Department was never informed of the Paul proffer by the four U.S. attorneys, who are all holdover Clinton political appointees or interim civil servants. Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman has brought the case to Bush appointees at Main Justice. But Attorney General John Ashcroft, after his brutal confirmation, shows great deference to non-Bush U.S. attorneys. The inclination is to "move on" rather than pursue the Clintons.
Nevertheless, a lawsuit filed by Paul in Los Angeles June 19 against Bill and Hillary Clinton paints a picture all too familiar in American political fund-raising generally and by the Clintons particularly.
Paul in 1998 co-founded Stan Lee Media, Inc. (SLM) with Stan Lee, creator of "Spiderman," "The Incredible Hulk" and other comic book characters. He claims he wanted President Clinton to honor Lee, but associates say Paul really sought the president as a business partner after he left office. What better way to woo him than by helping Mrs. Clinton get elected?
Court papers show Paul claiming he "spent approximately $1.9 million of his own personal funds" paying vendors for a lavish Hollywood "tribute" last Aug. 12 that raised a net $1.5 million for Mrs. Clinton's candidacy. Campaign finance lawyers see law violations in neither reporting this money nor reimbursing Paul.
"Generally, we don't comment on Judicial Watch activities," Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy told me. The Clinton FEC filing shows a $500,000 "in-kind" contribution by SLM, but actually, the company gave nothing. Paul's cancelled checks substantiate his $1.9 million unreported contribution.
Help for Mrs. Clinton's campaign was not all that Paul promised. The court filing asserts that in return for a one-year commitment to work for SLM once the president left office, Paul last July offered him $10 million in SLM stock, $5 million in cash and $1 million for the Clinton library. Paul alleges that Chicago businessman Jim Levin conveyed this offer to the White House and returned with a perquisite package including a Lincoln bedroom stay and a Camp David weekend. Levin did not respond to my phone calls.
On Aug. 14, Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove reported that Paul spent 30 months in federal prison after a 1979 conviction for trying to swindle Fidel Castro's government and cocaine possession. Mrs. Clinton's campaign immediately returned $2,000 directly contributed by Paul and his wife but ignored the $1.9 million.
The suit contends Paul was assured by Clinton's emissaries that nothing had been changed. Indeed, flowery thank-you letters from the Clintons were written after the Aug. 16 return of $2,000 ("With gratitude for friendship," Mrs. Clinton wrote on Aug. 18 in a note signed "Hillary").
After this experience, Paul asserts, he sought a presidential pardon into September. Democratic Party General Chairman Ed Rendell said "he was working on it," the suit alleges. Rendell told me his appointment book reflects no meeting with Paul that late in the year. "I can't recall any talk about a pardon," Rendell added.
Paul talked to me from Brazil this week, under the stipulation not to discuss his indictment. Did he really think spending all that money for Hillary Clinton's campaign would entice her husband into his firm? "I wonder if I was taken, and that's why this lawsuit was filed," he replied. The question now is whether Paul will get what is known as a "queen for a day" arrest-free visit to tell his story to prosecutors -- if they want to listen.