WASHINGTON (AP) _ A once-powerful House member and an Arkansas business executive ensnared in the corruption probe of a former Cabinet member are among 62 people granted Christmastime clemency by President Clinton.

Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., one-time chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was the most prominent of 59 men and women pardoned Friday by Clinton on their conviction of federal crimes, most involving drugs, taxes or fraud.

Also among those pardoned were Archie Schaffer III, a chicken company executive convicted as a result of the investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy; and Rick Hendrick III, a NASCAR team owner, banished from the sport for a year after being sentenced for bribery and mail fraud.

In addition, the president commuted the sentences of three prisoners to time served: former Missouri House Speaker Bob F. Griffin, who was serving time for bribery and mail fraud; and two women who received long terms under federal drug sentencing guidelines.

``I'm greatly appreciative,'' Rostenkowski, 72, told reporters outside his Chicago home Friday.

Asked what he's going to do now, he replied: ``I'm going on with my life and continue to teach and continue to write op-ed pieces for the press, to advise and counsel people that need counseling with respect to government.''

Rostenkowski pleaded guilty to two counts of misusing public funds in 1996 and served time in a minimum-security prison in Wisconsin. He was released from a halfway house in October 1997 after 451 days in federal custody.

He was not even eligible to request a pardon through the Justice Department, which requires that a person wait at least five years after completing a sentence before filing a pardon application. However, Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney said the Constitution gives the president broad authority to grant pardons.

Schaffer, an executive of Tyson Foods Inc., in Springdale, Ark., was convicted in June 1998 of illegally trying to influence Espy, then the agriculture secretary, by inviting him to a May 1993 Tyson party in Russellville, Ark. He was convicted of violating a 93-year-old law that prohibits bribing meat inspectors.

Schaffer, called out of a meeting at Tyson Foods to learn of Clinton's action, said getting a pardon was a fitting political solution because he remains ``convinced that politics was at the bottom of this ordeal from the outset.''

Schaffer, who has known Clinton for nearly 30 years, was sentenced in September to a year plus one day in prison for trying to illegally influence Espy. But the U.S. Appeals Court of the District of Columbia ruled Dec. 14 that Schaffer could remain free pending appeals.

Espy, the target of Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz's six-year, $23 million investigation, was acquitted in December 1998.

The three prisoners freed included two women entangled in the drug crimes of others, and who ended up a cause of women's groups and opponents of mandatory minimum prison sentences.

One is Kemba Smith, 28, of Richmond, Va., who was sentenced to 24 years and six months in prison with no chance of parole for helping her boyfriend Peter Hall, head of a violent drug ring.

The other is Dorothy Gaines, 42, of Mobile, Ala., who similarly received 19 years, seven months for her low-level role in a local drug ring. The men who ran the ring received more lenient sentences.

``President Clinton has shown mercy and integrity by releasing these individuals, who clearly aren't the drug kingpins Congress intended to target,'' said Laura Sager, director of the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. She urged Congress ``to go even further and initiate a review and reform of mandatory minimum sentencing laws when the new session begins.''

Before Friday, Clinton had granted 196 pardons and 22 commutations.

Clemency is an umbrella term meaning a merciful or lenient act by a judge, governor or president. A commutation reduces a criminal penalty, such as shortening a prison term. A pardon releases a person from the punishment of a crime.

States have different criteria for restoring the individual rights of those granted presidential pardons, the Justice Department said.