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White House: Clinton shameless in Libby comments

  • Story Highlights
  • Tony Snow says Clinton shows "chutzpah" in criticizing Libby commutation
  • On radio, ex-president said Libby case differed from his own pardon controversy
  • I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, convicted of lying to federal agents, won't serve time
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House spokesman Tony Snow fired back at former President Bill Clinton after Clinton charged that the Bush administration believes the law is a "minor obstacle" in the "Scooter" Libby case.

"I don't know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it," Snow told reporters in an off-camera briefing Wednesday.

Webster's New World dictionary defines chutzpah as "shameless audacity; imprudence; brass."

President Bush on Monday spared former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from federal prison, commuting his 30-month sentence for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents investigating the 2003 exposure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

Bush left a $250,000 fine and two-year probation intact, but he left the door open to a pardon, which would clear Libby's record.

"You've got to understand, this is consistent with (Bush administration) philosophy," Clinton said during an interview on Des Moines news-talk station WHO.

Bush administration officials, he said, "believe that they should be able to do what they want to do, and that the law is a minor obstacle." Video Watch Bill Clinton sound off on Bush's decision »

In an op-ed piece in USA Today on Wednesday, Snow defended Bush's action, charging that Clinton was "in a mad rush to push through pardons with dizzying haste -- 141 grants on Clinton's final day in office, part of 211 in the final nine weeks."

Clinton's flurry of last-minute pardons issued as he left office in 2001 -- particularly his absolution of fugitive financier Marc Rich -- sparked largely partisan outrage. Critics alleged that the pardon of Rich was linked to contributions raised for Clinton's presidential library by Rich's ex-wife.

Libby's defenders have pointed to Democratic support for Clinton during that period to accuse critics of Bush's commutation order of hypocrisy.

Asked by a reporter if he was asserting that "two wrongs make a right," Snow said: "Do we feel we've done wrong? Do we feel we cut corners? The answer is no."

Snow also said the White House feels it is on safe legal ground in contending that Libby will serve two years of probation, despite questions now being raised by Judge Reggie Walton, who issued an order Tuesday suggesting Libby cannot serve any probation since he never served any prison time before the commutation.

"Strictly construed, the statute authorizing the imposition of supervised release indicates that such release should occur only after the defendant has already served a term of imprisonment," Walton wrote.

After first suggesting he wasn't sure, Snow said White House counsel Fred Fielding had "absolutely" checked on this question before the president signed off on the commutation.


"The White House did not make a misstep," he said. Despite the certainty expressed by Snow, he did add that there's some "gray area in the law."

Asked about the plan of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Michigan, to probe the Libby commutation, Snow snapped that the congressman should "knock himself out," but also probe the slew of pardons granted at the end of the Clinton administration. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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