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Americans sour on the Clintons

Public opinion of Bill Clinton has plummeted in the two months since he walked out of the White House, reaching its lowest level since before he arrived in Washington, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Nonetheless, most Americans say they essentially believe his explanation for why he granted the last-minute pardons that have shadowed his exit from public life.

The former president's wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., did not fare much better in the poll. More than 40 percent of Americans nationwide said they had an unfavorable view of her, about as negative a rating as she has ever received during her years in public life. The poll's sample was not large enough to measure Mrs. Clinton's standing among New Yorkers, but her advisers acknowledged that she had been hurt in her new home state by the furor over the pardons, which has dominated her first two months as a senator.

The results of the Times/CBS News poll suggest that even out of office _ and with little likelihood that his name will ever appear on an election ballot again _ Clinton continues to inspire intense if somewhat conflicted reactions from Americans. Even as they say they believe him, and are split about whether his use of executive pardons was appreciably more egregious than that of his predecessors, their opinion of him has shifted swiftly and sharply to the negative.

When Clinton left office, 57 percent of Americans said they had a favorable view of him, compared with 35 percent who viewed him unfavorably. That perception has flipped almost entirely: Now, 51 percent of respondents say they view Clinton unfavorably, compared with just 38 percent who view him favorably. That is the lowest rating Clinton has received since the Times/CBS News poll began measuring public perceptions of him in October 1991.

What is more, two out of three respondents say that Clinton does not share their moral values.

Clinton continues to enjoy strong support among black Americans; eight in 10 say they view him favorably, and two out of three say he shares their values. By contrast, only four in 10 Democrats surveyed said Clinton shared their values, while two-thirds of that group said they held a favorable view of him.

A majority of respondents say they believe what both Clintons have said in response to questions about the pardons he issued, some of which are now being investigated by Congress and federal prosecutors. About 56 percent of respondents say he was mostly or entirely truthful in declaring that the pardons were granted on the merits; 38 percent say he was not telling the truth. About two-thirds say they think Mrs. Clinton, who has said she was not involved in the decisions to grant the pardons, is being either entirely or mostly truthful.

The telephone poll, of 1,105 adults, was taken from March 8 to March 12. Its margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Clintons nearly $4-million short of paying legal bills

WASHINGTON _ The legal defense fund for former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised only $750,000 over the past eight months, leaving the Clintons nearly $4-million short of paying the enormous legal bills they have incurred since 1994.

Anthony Essaye, the defense fund's executive director, said he is uncertain who will pay the bill: the Clintons, financial donors or the taxpayers.

On the last full day of his presidency, Clinton agreed not to seek taxpayer reimbursement of legal fees for the scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The promise did not extend to the Whitewater criminal investigation, which lasted until September.

Providing a final accounting, trustees of the fund said the fund has received $8.7-million since its formation in February 1998, and applied $7.4-million of that toward the Clintons' legal bills after paying its expenses. But the legal payments fall $3.9-million short of the $11.3-million in legal expenses incurred by the Clintons.

No donations linked to individuals granted clemency by Clinton were received in recent months, Essaye said, although the ex-wife and a daughter of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich each contributed $10,000 to the fund soon after its inception. Essaye said the fund's contribution records have not been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors or congressional investigators.

Riady disputes making $1-million offer to Clinton

WASHINGTON _ The Indonesian billionaire who has agreed to plead guilty to making illegal donations to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign denied having a limousine conversation with the candidate about raising $1-million for the race, court records show.

James Riady "told Clinton that he would be supportive" of Clinton's campaign, meaning that he would provide financial support, but never mentioned $1-million during a conversation the two had in Clinton's limousine after a campaign event August 1992, according to a summary of information Riady has provided to federal prosecutors as part of a plea agreement.

Riady's account of the limousine talk contradicts what fundraiser John Huang has told the FBI.

Law school honors Clinton for his peace advocacy

NEW YORK _ Bill Clinton, who is barred from practicing law, will be honored with a law school's International Advocate for Peace award.

The former president was selected for the prize, to be given Monday, by two student groups at Benjamin Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University.