WASHINGTON - In a lavish display of executive forgiveness, President Clinton ended his stay in the White House yesterday by pardoning 140 people, including Whitewater scandal figure Susan McDougal, newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington.
Clinton wiped out the criminal records of his half-brother, Roger, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, former CIA head John M. Deutch, onetime Navajo Nation leader Peter MacDonald and billionaire commodities trader Marc Rich.
But he did not pardon several high-profile convicts whose supporters had vigorously campaigned for presidential mercy.
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Native American activist Leonard Peltier and financier Michael Milken were left off the list. In addition to the pardons, Clinton lifted the death sentence of an Alabama man and commuted the sentences of 35 others, including former Illinois Rep. Melvin Reynolds, who was convicted of fraud in 1995.
As perhaps befitted a president who kept bouncing back from his own numerous scrapes with impropriety, Clinton's action yesterday established a record for presidential pardons in recent years.
In two terms in the White House, Clinton pardoned more than 200 - more than the 176 Ronald Reagan pardoned in his two terms and far more than the 73 George Bush pardoned in one term. In their last few days in office, Reagan erased the convictions of 10 people; Bush, of 12.
The White House originally planned to issue the pardon list Friday night, but the extensive number of clemency pleas that were seriously considered pushed the process into the early hours of yesterday, officials said.
Clinton, who escaped indictment himself Friday through an agreement with the independent counsel, also pardoned Samuel L. Morison.
A Maryland resident and grandson of Samuel Eliot Morison, a famed Navy historian, Morison was convicted of spying for leaking intelligence photographs to a British magazine. In a case that matched First Amendment issues against national security concerns, Morison was the first person convicted of espionage for furnishing classified data to a journalist.
Presidential pardons essentially erase criminal records and allow recipients to vote again.
In pardoning McDougal, 46, Clinton benefited a former business partner who spent 18 months behind bars after she refused to testify against Clinton and his wife, Hillary, in the Whitewater case.
"I am so grateful," McDougal said yesterday. "There are tears down my face right now, I don't think I stopped crying since I saw the announcement."
Webster Hubbell, a former law partner of Hillary Clinton who was convicted in the Whitewater case, had not sought a presidential pardon and was not granted one.
While the prosecutions of many or perhaps most of those pardoned yesterday have long been settled, Clinton's pardons of Deutch, 61, and Symington, 55, spare both men from present legal jeopardy.
Deutch, who was CIA director in 1995 and 1996, had been discussing a plea agreement with the Justice Department over allegations that he put top-secret intelligence information on his home computer, which was attached to the Internet.
Symington, a Republican who grew up in Baltimore, was convicted on several counts of bank and wire fraud in 1997. Those decisions were overturned on appeal, but Symington still faced a possible retrial. "I'm humbled and gratified," Symington said. "I thank the president, and I thank God."
McDougal served less than four months of a two-year prison term for four felony convictions, but then spent another 18 months in jail for refusing to testifying to a grand jury. She and Deutch weren't the only present or former Clinton associates to receive presidential pardons.
Cisneros, 52, the former mayor of San Antonio, was HUD secretary in Clinton's first term. He pleaded guilty in 1999 to misdemeanor charges that he lied about payments to a former mistress.
Roger Clinton, the president's half-brother, pleaded guilty in 1985 to conspiring to distribute cocaine and served more than a year in prison. Stephen A. Smith, an aide to Clinton in Arkansas, was pardoned for a 1995 misdemeanor charge relating to Whitewater.
The unsuccessful petitions of Milken, Peltier and Pollard had generated intense lobbying campaigns by people both for and against their pardons.
Milken was a billionaire purveyor of high-risk bonds in the 1980s who was convicted of fraud and served time in prison. In recent years he has devoted himself to philanthropy, but clemency for Milken was opposed by several law enforcement officials, including Richard Walker, enforcement director for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Pollard was convicted of espionage in 1985 and is still in prison. Some foreign policy analysts have believed he might be released as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but despite years of negotiations no such agreement is in sight.