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Clintons trade jabs with White House

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- The White House exchanged volleys yesterday with former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, over the question of executive clemency, with each side accusing the other of unpardonable acts.

Twice yesterday the White House challenged criticism from the former president and Senator Clinton, a New York Democrat, directed at President Bush for commuting the prison sentence of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr.

The Clintons sought to distinguish Bill Clinton's record on pardons, accusing Bush of attempting to protect the White House from scrutiny in sparing Libby prison time.

Firing back, the Republican National Committee posted on its Web site a list of "controversial Clinton pardons and commutations," including a sampling of the 140 pardons that Clinton doled out on his last day in office in January 2001.

"I don't know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it," Press Secretary Tony Snow said at the White House.

Meanwhile yesterday Libby, who faced 30 months behind bars until Bush interceded Monday, paid a $250,000 fine imposed as part of his perjury and obstruction conviction, according to court records.

Friends and supporters of Libby have raised about $5 million through a legal defense fund, but an adviser said the fund was not used to pay the fine.

Libby is continuing to appeal his March conviction in the CIA leak case in the hope of cleansing the felonies from his record.

Bush's commutation left intact the fine, as well as two years' supervised release - a form of probation. The judge in the case has said he is not sure the law allows for the imposition of probation when a defendant has served no time in jail.

Snow said yesterday that Bush intended that Libby be subject to the probation. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has asked lawyers to advise him on the issue by Monday.

In the closing hours of his presidency, Clinton pardoned 140 people - including his half-brother, who had been convicted of cocaine distribution, and a businessman under investigation for money laundering who was represented by a brother of Senator Clinton.

The former president's most notorious pardon was of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife, Denise, was a Democratic Party fundraiser and patron of the Clinton presidential library.

Marc Rich was also once a client of Libby's when Libby was in private law practice before entering the Bush administration. But Libby has said he was not involved in the effort to obtain a pardon for Rich and indicated in congressional testimony in 2001 that he would not necessarily have supported such a move.

The former president is trying to draw a distinction between the pardons he granted and Bush's moves.

"I think there are guidelines for what happens when somebody is convicted," Clinton told a radio interviewer Tuesday. "You've got to understand, this is consistent with their philosophy; they believe that they should be able to do what they want to do, and that the law is a minor obstacle."

Senator Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, also defended the pardons granted by her husband, saying they were routine.

"This," she said of the Libby commutation, "was clearly an effort to protect the White House. There isn't any doubt now, what we know is that Libby was carrying out the implicit or explicit wishes of the vice president, or maybe the president as well, in the further effort to stifle dissent."

Snow, the White House spokesman, was asked yesterday about plans by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, to hold hearings next week on the commuted sentence.

"Well, fine, knock himself out. ... And while he's at it, why doesn't he look at Jan. 20, 2001?" Snow said, in a reference to Clinton's 11th-hour pardons.

Richard B. Schmitt and James Gerstenzang write for the Los Angeles Times.

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