Skip to main content AllPolitics with TIME

Clinton defends pardons, saying individuals 'paid in full' for crimes

Among Americans pardoned today by outgoing President Clinton were, clockwise from left: Henry Cisneros, Patricia Hearst, Susan McDougal, Roger Clinton  

CHAPPAQUA, New York (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton on Sunday defended his 11th-hour pardon of 140 people, saying the public should be "open-minded" about the cases and the use of that executive privilege.

"The word 'pardon' is somehow almost a misnomer," Clinton said. "You're not saying these people didn't comment the offense. You're saying they paid, they paid in full." As such, Clinton added, the people should be awarded full citizenship rights, including voting.


"Therefore, we ought to be more open-minded about that," Clinton said, adding that his staff would prepare a memo in the coming weeks for "how future presidents should handle this."

The pardons included Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, ex-CIA chief John Deutch and publishing heiress Patty Hearst.

Clinton also pardoned a man listed on the Department of Justice's Web site as an international fugitive, Marc David Rich. The 66-year-old Belgium native, who holds citizenship in the United States, Spain and Israel, had been wanted for allegedly conspiring with the Iranian government in 1980 to fraudulently purchase six million barrels of oil despite a trade embargo against the country.

Asked by a reporter about pardoning a fugitive, Clinton declined to talk in detail about his reasoning, referring comment to the man's attorney.

"I spent a lot of time on that case," Clinton said. "I think there are very good reasons for it."

Clinton issued the pardons hours before leaving office Saturday. They included his brother, Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of a cocaine charge in the 1980s after cooperating with authorities, and former Gov. Fife Symington of Arizona, a Republican whose conviction for bank and wire fraud was overturned on appeal. Prosecutors had sought a rehearing in the case.

Asked if the individuals deserved their pardons, Clinton said yes.

"Absolutely, I wouldn't have done any if I hadn't," he said, adding that the number of pardons he granted was "more than President Reagan in the aggregate, but less than President Carter and President Ford did."

Clinton also commuted the sentences of 36 other people.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition, former Independent Counsel Ken Starr suggested the number of pardons was high.

"Well, this is unusual as a matter of history, I gather, for so many pardons to issue, including some that I'm sure will be viewed as controversial," he said. "But I don't question the authority and prerogative of the president. That's why we elect the president. And he maintains that authority until the final moments of office."


Sunday, January 21, 2001



Back to the top