Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton drew a distinction between President Bush's decision to commute the sentence of White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby — which she has harshly criticized — and her husband's 140 pardons in his closing hours in office.
"I believe that presidential pardon authority is available to any president, and almost all presidents have exercised it," Clinton said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "This (the Libby decision) was clearly an effort to protect the White House. ... There isn't any doubt now, what we know is that Libby was carrying out the implicit or explicit wishes of the vice president, or maybe the president as well, in the further effort to stifle dissent."
Libby, a former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, had been sentenced to 30 months in prison as well as two years' probation and a $250,000 fine for perjury in connection with the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plane's name to reporters.
Just hours after a federal appeals court rejected Libby's appeal, Bush announced his decision to commute the prison term portion of the sentence, which he labeled excessive.
As she campaigns with her husband for Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses, Clinton has joined other Democrats in ripping Bush's decision. In the interview, she said it was "one more example" of the Bush administration thinking "it is above the rule of law."
Her husband's pardons, issued in the closing hours of his presidency, were simply routine exercise in the use of the pardon power, and none were aimed at protecting the Clinton presidency or legacy, she said.
"This particular action by the president is one more piece of evidence in their ongoing disregard for the rule of law that they think they don't have to answer to," she said.
Clinton opened her latest campaign swing — the first with her husband along — just hours after rival Barack Obama announced he had broken all fundraising records by bringing in $32.5 million in the most recent quarter, $10 million more than Clinton reported in primary money.
"I think his campaign did a terrific job," said Clinton. "We're excited by the support we're getting. We're obviously going to have the resources we need to run the campaign."
She said she never considered the nomination inevitable.
"I know how complicated and uncertain political campaigns are," she said.