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White House Wants Pardon Secrecy

August 27, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration is arguing that documents related to a spate of pardons issued by former President Clinton as he left office should be withheld from the public to protect the right of the president to receive confidential advice.

``The president is entitled to receive confidential advice and candid assessments from government attorneys,″ said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The government asserted its argument in papers submitted to U.S. District Court earlier this month as part of a lawsuit filed last year by the nonprofit group Judicial Watch, which is seeking access to records of the 177 pardons and commutations that Clinton considered or approved on the last day of his presidency. These include the clemency he granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich and the lobbying done by brother Roger Clinton on behalf of other pardon-seekers.

``The release of these documents would have a chilling effect on the deliberative process,″ McClellan said.

The spokesman said the administration was not seeking executive privilege protections but instead was arguing that freedom of information laws should not be used to publicize presidential deliberations.

McClellan quoted from one of the Justice Department memos on the case that argued that the pardon ``is a core presidential power exclusively entrusted and executed by the president himself, and documents generated in the process of developing and providing advice to him are squarely subject to the privilege.″

As Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton explained it, the Bush administration is trying to assert that executive-branch communications outside the White House are protected by presidential privilege. But the courts have already ruled that presidential communication privilege applies only to the president and his advisers inside the White House, Fitton said.

``We believe there is a tacit agreement between the Clinton-ites and the Bush-ites not to probe too deeply into each others affairs and this is part of it,″ said Fitton. ``What’s ludicrous is that the Bush White House is essentially saying, ‘Leave Marc Rich alone, leave Roger Clinton alone, they’re private figures.’ ``

The court will not rule on the White House argument for dismissal of the lawsuit until after Judicial Watch files its response in mid-September.

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