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 from government attorneys," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The government asserted its argument in 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 approved on the last day of his presidency, including the clemency he granted fugitive financier Marc Rich.

"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 which 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."