Are Hillary's Brothers Driving Off Course?

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    Was Rodham using his pull to line his own pocket? Rodham says he had no money invested in IBN, although he was paid by Prescott, a Florida hotel owner, for his work on the company's behalf. "I called the Russia desk at the White House, at the nsc, as anybody in this country can do," said Rodham in an interview. But is it possible his request was treated differently from the way it might have been if his name were, say, Jones? Indeed, another prominent American working in Russia relations, who asked not to be named, made a similar call on Luzhkov's behalf and had no luck at all.

    If Tony Rodham's business dealings might benefit from some scrutiny, the same might be said about some of his business associates--like a Georgian wheeler-dealer named Vasili Patarkalishvili. He was the one who thought up the smart-card and hazelnut ventures. Patarkalishvili has had other brushes with controversy. In the early 1990s he opened Liberty Bank, ostensibly to operate in Georgia and the U.S. But in 1994 the Comptroller of the Currency issued a warning that the bank was not authorized to operate on American soil. The bank shut down in the U.S. Now Patarkalishvili and several partners are being sued by two men who claim that Liberty, IBN and several other enterprises amounted to a Ponzi scheme in which they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they claim in the suit that one of the partners, Robert Kay, told them Tony Rodham and President Clinton "were behind the [IBN] project and that Clinton was going to approach Russian President Boris Yeltsin personally" to support it. Kay and Patarkalishvili could not be reached for comment; Rodham denies saying anything that would lead to such a statement, or knowing about Liberty Bank's problems.

    And what of brother Hugh? He too appears to have discovered that being a First Brother-in-Law has its advantages. He left the Miami public defender's office and ran in 1994 in a doomed-from-the-start bid to unseat popular Republican Senator Connie Mack. He then parlayed his family fame into a radio show.

    It was Hugh's involvement, despite his having little relevant experience, with a group of plaintiffs' lawyers fighting Big Tobacco that led to his most high-profile public castigation, this one from the President's foes in Congress. The lawyers' massive class action against cigarette makers on behalf of injured smokers was dismissed in 1996. But the attorneys, known as the Castano group, elbowed their way into separate ongoing negotiations between the cigarette companies and state attorneys general, who had their own lawsuits going against the tobacco firms. How did these lawyers manage to get involved? Largely because of Hugh's presence, others in the settlement talks said. "We felt we had to keep [the Castano lawyers] because of Rodham" and his famous kin, said one of the attorneys representing the states. Hugh helped arrange some White House meetings for some of the negotiators with deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey and others. And the Castano group won a potentially lucrative provision in the $368.5 billion settlement that could have awarded them millions in fees from an arbitrator. Ultimately, Hugh and the Castano lawyers came up empty-handed after the settlement foundered on Capitol Hill.

    But not before the Senate Republicans made an issue out of Hugh's role. His name was invoked on the floor as a symbol both of rich trial lawyers (though he had yet to become one) and of the G.O.P.'s archenemy, Bill Clinton. A Republican dubbed him "the $50 million man," an inflated estimate of what Rodham might have made from the deal. Hugh maintains, and at least one other lawyer confirms, that he and his law partner Gary Fine were invited into the original Castano class action by a Pennsylvania lawyer who was an old friend--and they paid a $100,000 admission fee for the privilege. "It was totally unforeseen, when we joined...that there would be any connection with politics," Hugh said in written responses to TIME.

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