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Pardon awareness sought

WASHINGTON/(AP) -- Troubled by former President Bill Clinton's last-minute pardons, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Sunday the Justice Department is reviewing its procedures to ensure that federal prosecutors and crime victims are made aware of clemency applications.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Congress, whose enthusiasm for continued investigations seems to have waned after four hearings on the pardons, still has a role to play.

"I think we should look at some remedial action or some sort of advice to future presidents," Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, said on "Fox News Sunday."

President George W. Bush has said he thinks it is time for Congress to move on, and Lott said last week, "I'd be inclined to move on."

Ashcroft declined to discuss specific pardons granted by Clinton hours before he left office on Jan. 20. He did say he was "troubled about a variety of things in relation to the pardons. I think pardons ought to be used to correct problems in the justice system, not to reward friends or otherwise."

The attorney general said on Fox he has decided to review procedures so prosecutors and victims "are adequately heard" when the department is considering a pardon.

The White House has said that White House counsel Al Gonzales was working with the Justice Department on a general review of policies, with an eye toward developing rules for issuing presidential pardons.

"Obviously this president is concerned that he do those things which are appropriate, and we're reviewing our pardon procedures to make sure that we provide him with the best possible basis for his decision-making," Ashcroft said. "And we all know that it is the president's decision to make as to whether or not pardons are granted."

Lott, meantime, said he did not think Congress "should walk away" from investigations of what he called "a shameful exercise."

"I do think we should look at what we could do, maybe, from a remedial standpoint," he said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said over the weekend that the congressional investigation was "winding down."

"I think, probably from my point of view, about all that information (that) is going to come out, has come out," Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, said in a CNN interview broadcast Saturday.

At a House committee hearing last month, the official who served as pardon attorney at the Justice Department from 1990-97 said that from the beginning of his presidency, Clinton moved to take away the agency's traditional role of being the first to review pardon requests.

Clinton granted more than 170 pardons and commutations on Jan. 20, including one to fugitive financier Marc Rich. Republicans want to know whether there was a money-for-pardons deal in that case. Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, contributed $450,000 to Clinton's presidential library foundation.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in New York has said that her office was unaware that a pardon for Rich was being considered. She is conducting a criminal investigation into the pardon.

Also Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who will meet with Bush at the White House on March 20, said he would raise the issue of a pardon for former Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, convicted in 1985 of espionage for giving Israel tens of thousands of top-secret documents. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.

"I think it would be very, very important if Jonathan Pollard would be freed after so many years," Sharon said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The Clinton administration reviewed Israel's request that Pollard be released but Pollard was not on Clinton's final list.

(c) 2001 Associated Press

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