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Clintons to pay for last year’s gifts

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WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will pay for nearly $86,000 worth of gifts they chose to keep last year, his office said Friday, seeking to remove the whiff of impropriety that clouded their exit from the White House.

The payback amounts to about half the value of the gifts Clinton and his wife reported they intended to keep when he left office on Jan. 20. An aide to Hillary Clinton, the new Democratic senator from New York, said reimbursement was also an attempt to stem criticism that has surrounded her first weeks on Capitol Hill.

The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, emphasized that both the former president and his wife would pay for the gifts.

Earlier Friday, Bill Clinton announced that the government would be billed for only half the $600,000 annual rent on a Manhattan office. The aide said that, too, was intended to deflect criticism.

The gifts include $7,375 worth of furniture received from Denise Rich, the ex-wife of a fugitive financier pardoned by Bill Clinton on his last day in office — a move that has prompted a congressional investigation.

"As have other presidents and their families before us, we received gifts over the course of our eight years in the White House and followed all of the gift rules," Bill Clinton said in a statement faxed to news agencies by his chief of staff, Karen Tramontano.

"While we gave the vast majority of gifts we received to the National Archives, we reported those gifts that we were keeping," the statement said. "To eliminate even the slightest question, we are taking the step of paying for gifts given to us in 2000."

The Clintons would pay for $85,966 worth of gifts they say received in 2000. Bill Clinton said other gifts were handed to the National Archives.

There was a discrepancy between that figure and more than $190,000 in gifts disclosed on Bill Clinton's financial disclosure report for 2000, released the day before he left office.

There were even discrepancies between amounts listed for individual givers: The disclosure lists $9,683 from Walter Kaye, a New York donor; the statement lists Kaye as having given the Clintons $9,433 in gifts, $250 less.

The statement quoted Hillary Clinton as well, a reflection of stinging suggestions that accepting the gifts in the period between her election and her swearing-in was improper.

"As New York's junior senator, I intend to focus all my energies on the interests of my constituents," Hillary Clinton said. "I believe the step we are taking today reaffirms that I am fully committed to being the best senator I possibly can be for New York."

Gift-givers named in an attachment include prominent Democratic Party donors, including Denise Rich, who donated more than $200,000 to the party last year and also gave to the first lady's campaign.

Clinton's eleventh-hour pardon of her ex-husband, Marc Rich, from charges he evaded $48 million in taxes caused a furor. Next week, a congressional committee will begin hearings into the propriety of the pardon, although it is irreversible.

Mrs. Clinton's acceptance of the gifts had drawn criticism from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who said he would consider legislation to extend the ban on gift-taking from swearing-in day — Jan. 3 — to Election Day, or Nov. 7.

Clinton said the only gift he would not return is a photograph of seminal jazz composer Duke Ellington, valued at $800. Instead, he donated it to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington.

The photo was a gift from Ken Burns, who recently produced a documentary series on jazz.