IN his final executive act as president, Bill Clinton yesterday dramatically pardoned more than 100 Americans including Susan McDougal, his former Whitewater business partner, and Patty Hearst, the former terrorist.
Miss Hearst, the granddaughter of the newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst, had served three years in prison after joining the left-wing Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped her in 1974. Mr Clinton also pardoned his own brother, Roger, who was convicted for cocaine possession in Arkansas and who was among a number of drug offenders that Mr Clinton believed had been punished too harshly.
There was, however, no reprieve for Webster Hubbell, a former partner in Mrs Clinton's Little Rock law firm who was convicted as a result of the Whitewater investigation. There was also no pardon for the former junk bond king Michael Milken who also served a prison sentence for fraud.
Mr Clinton had delayed announcing the pardons from Friday until yesterday morning. A row over Miss McDougal's inclusion is thought to have caused the delay. Miss McDougal, a Clinton friend from Arkansas, spent 18 months in prison after refusing to give evidence that might implicate the President and First Lady in a bank fraud while he was the state's governor.
No one expected Mr Clinton to go quietly, but the final hours of his presidency proved to be as full of drama as a Hollywood film script. The outgoing president's longest day threatened to overshadow the inauguration ceremonies for George W Bush as arguments raged inside the White House over whether to pardon key figures in investigations into alleged corrupt financial dealings by the Clintons.
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Long after Mr Clinton bade an emotional farewell to White House staff on Friday evening, a number of aids are understood to have cautioned Mr Clinton against including Miss McDougal on the list. Her lawyer, Mark Geragos, said he had been told that she was: "Front and centre the main reason," for the delay in naming those pardoned. After hours of debate, a decision was postponed until yesterday morning, shortly before Mr Bush was due to take the oath of office in Washington.
The events of Mr Clinton's last full day in office could not have been better staged to steal the headlines from his successor. What is normally a day of formality and farewells was transformed into a series of political dramas, which began with the breakfast dishes barely cleared from the President and First Lady's table for the last time.
Rumours of the deal that would resolve the threat of criminal charges against Mr Clinton for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, began to sweep Washington. Behind the scenes, White House special counsel Robert Ray was concluding a deal with the president's lawyer David Kendal that would lift the shadow that has hung over Mr Clinton for the last seven years.
The investigation, which began with the Whitewater land deal and Kenneth Starr, was concluded with the president admitting that he lied while giving evidence in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former Little Rock hotel receptionist Paula Jones.
Mr Clinton also agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, a five-year suspension of his licence to practice law in Arkansas, and not to seek the recovery of millions of dollars he has spent in legal fees fighting the investigation. Most significantly, he admitted to "testifying falsely" about his relationship with Miss Lewinsky while she was a White House intern.
Mr Clinton was said to be relieved to have the threat of charges removed after he left office, but upset that his final hours in the White House were once again dominated by the scandals that have dogged his presidency. For much of the rest of Friday, the President and First Lady packed the last of their personal belonging to be moved to their house outside New York.
The White House also released a list of gifts which Mr Clinton had decided to keep, including boxing gloves from the actor Sylvester Stallone, a kitchen table, two carpets and an oil painting of Buddy, his dog. Mr Clinton has not, however, forgiven everyone as it was revealed that Linda Tripp, whose secret recordings of her telephone conversations with Miss Lewinsky confirmed the relationship, has been sacked.
Miss Tripp, who worked at the Pentagon, was reclassified as a political employee after revealing the affair. White House rules require political staff to resign when a president leaves office. She was sacked for refusing to do so.
Even 90 minutes after President Bush had taken the oath of office, the now former president seemed reluctant to leave the Washington stage. Arriving at Andrews Air Force Base to board Air Force One for the flight to New York, Mr Clinton gave an unprecedented departure speech to members of his personal staff, revealing that he had toured the empty rooms of the White House that morning, but emphasising that the political baton had been passed to his wife Hillary in the Senate.
Mr Clinton joked that the loss of his presidential privileges meant: "For the first time in eight years I am in the driving seat." He then issued what sounded like a warning to his opponents, saying: "I have left the White House, but I'm still here." In a display of loyalty, Mrs Clinton agreed to accompany her husband on the short trip to their new house in Chappaqua rather than remain in Washington in her new role in the United States Senate.