Clinton's Last-Minute Swipe at Independent Counsels

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Last Friday, Bill Clinton confessed wrongdoing in his 1998 Paula Jones deposition, fulfilling his part of a deal cut with Independent Counsel Robert Ray and bringing an end to a probe that had dragged on through most of his presidency. But on Saturday, issuing a slew of pardons, Clinton took a major swipe at all the independent counsels who had dogged him and his cabinet. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros and his onetime mistress were pardoned. Several figures who were squeezed by longtime Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Ray's predecessor — Steve Smith, Robert Palmer, Chris Wade and Susan McDougal — were given dispensation.

But perhaps more irksome for Ray is that Clinton has now pardoned or commuted the sentence of each and every individual convicted by Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz, who in 1994 was appointed to lead the investigation in former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, and whose deputy was Ray until Ray took over from Kenneth Starr. Smaltz's investigation of Espy was, even more than any of the independent counsel probes, widely criticized for being overzealous. His 34-count indictment of Espy for allegedly accepting illegal gifts and gratuities ended in acquittal. And those he gathered in his net along the way — lobbyist James Lake, Espy aide Ron Blackley, farmer Keith Mitchell, longtime Espy friend and lobbyist Richard Douglas, Tyson Foods official Archie Schaffer and others — are now free and clear.

Ray was heavily involved in several of the prosecutions, including those of Mitchell and Blackley. On the Sunday morning talkfests, Ray didn't comment on any specific pardons, saying only that the actions were "the former president's prerogative." There was no answer, not even an answering machine, at Smaltz's office on Monday afternoon, though presumably it is still open for business since a statutorily required final report has yet to be delivered. The office's web page was most recently updated last July.