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Lott says it's time to 'move on' in pardons probe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says it is "time to move on" and end a Senate committee probe of pardons granted by President Clinton on his last day in office.

Lott spoke Monday after a spokeswoman for Clinton denied a report that Clinton was considering a request to discuss his last-minute pardons with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who has been leading the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation.

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The Associated Press quoted Clinton aide Julia Payne as saying the offer was under consideration, but Payne later denied the story to CNN.

"President Clinton is not considering Sen. Specter's request at this time," she said. Payne later added, "That's not something we would consider at all."

Clinton issued 140 pardons hours before he left office, and many of them have been criticized, especially that of expatriate financier Marc Rich. Listed as an international fugitive by the Justice Department, Rich had been indicted in 1983 on tax and fraud charges, but left the country before he could stand trial.

Lott, R-Mississippi, suggested Clinton's refusal to talk to Specter should effectively end the Senate investigation into the pardons matter.

"I don't think we should get into trying to force him to come to the committee, so it is my inclination that it is time to move on," Lott said.

Lott said the Senate's goal from the beginning was not to reverse the pardons, but to look for some "remedial action," and that there had "already had enough" hearings to achieve that objective.

The Republican leader called Specter's invitation to Clinton to tell his side of the story "reasonable," but that "if he [Clinton] doesn't want to do that, it's his decision."

Specter said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he had talked informally with Clinton's chief of staff, Karen Tramontano, and suggested "very professional questioning by me with another Democrat, if the president chooses, in an office, his office if he would like, getting to the basic facts."

The pardons are also the subject of a House committee investigation and a criminal probe by a federal prosecutor in New York.



RELATED STORIES:
Aide denies Clinton considering talk with Specter
March 5, 2001
Tony Rodham says he talked to Clinton about pardon
March 3, 2001
Clinton waives privilege in pardons probe; Rich refuses to testify
February 27, 2001
Second Clinton pardon figure refuses to testify
February 26, 2001
Sen. Clinton's campaign treasurer denies pardon wrongdoing
February 23, 2001
Roger Clinton now target of pardon probe
February 22, 2001
New controversy emerges in Clinton pardons
February 21, 2001

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