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“This commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice,” she said.

The New York senator, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, also said 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.”

Mr. Clinton has sought to distinguish his pardons from the commutation granted by Mr. Bush, which leaves in place Libby’s felony conviction, as well as a $250,000 fine — which he paid yesterday — and two years of probation.

“I think there are guidelines for what happens when somebody is convicted,” Mr. Clinton told a radio interviewer Tuesday. “You’ve got to understand, this is consistent with their philosophy; they believe that they should be able to do what they want to do, and that the law is a minor obstacle.”

Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted of lying to investigators looking into the White House leak of CIA employee Valerie Plame’s identity. No charges have been brought on the underlying “outing,” which was done by Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage to columnist Robert Novak.

Mr. Clinton was impeached by the House for perjury and obstruction of justice over his lying about an affair that he had with a White House intern but was acquitted by the Senate. He made an admission of misconduct and was hit with a $25,000 fine and a five-year suspension of his law license but was never tried for perjury in a criminal court.

While issuing more than 400 pardons during his eight years of office, Mr. Clinton wiped clean the records of his half brother, Roger, who had been convicted of distributing cocaine; John Deutch, a former CIA director who violated security laws; 16 members of the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN, some of whom had been convicted of violent crimes; and Susan MacDougal, a partner of the Clintons in Whitewater who had been convicted of misusing loan proceeds.

In addition, he pardoned Henry Cisneros, secretary of housing and urban development, who lied to federal agents about payments to his mistress, and Vonna Jo Gregory, who was convicted of bank fraud and paid Mrs. Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, to help secure the pardon.

Back then, Mr. Clinton’s spokeswoman, Julia Payne, said: “Pardons by their nature are controversial … but the U.S. Constitution gives the president this right. Former presidents have all made controversial pardons.”