A third of those granted last-minute pardons or commutations by President Clinton last month skirted the normal Justice Department review process and instead appealed directly to the White House in the waning days of his presidency.

According to documents obtained Wednesday, 47 people -- nearly twice as many as the two dozen originally reported -- were granted presidential relief without applications first being fully examined by the Justice Department's pardon attorney's office.

Most of them never filed normal clemency applications with the Justice Department. Others had been denied pardons by Clinton earlier or simply were not qualified for a pardon under Justice Department rules.

Also Wednesday, officials of a key House oversight committee investigating the pardons said they have been unable to locate written files supporting the 47 pardon requests because the new Justice Department under President Bush does not have them.

Instead, that paperwork -- if it exists -- may have been boxed up and sent to Little Rock, Ark., for inclusion in Clinton's office or presidential library.

The twilight clemency action by Clinton is continuing to stir questions about whether the outgoing president was dispensing favors to donors or well-connected lawyers and friends when he used one of the high office's most prized powers to grant 140 clemencies on his last day in office.

It is unclear whether other presidents have pardoned as many individuals whose applications were not first reviewed by the Justice Department. And the Clinton White House has not fully explained why the president acted without waiting for Justice Department approval.

Several legal experts and others who have studied presidential pardons said Clinton's diversion from the traditional process breeds cynicism and raises concerns about how future presidents may use the pardon system to play favorites.

They do not, however, challenge a president's authority to pardon and commute sentences as seen fit under the office's unchecked constitutional mandate.

"It's a presidential prerogative that can't be checked by Congress," said Ronald Allen, an expert on criminal and constitutional law at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. "The internal procedures of Justice don't bind the hands of the president -- and in a real sense shouldn't."

But Allen and others noted that those Justice Department procedures "are designed to engage these cases and act as a break against the abuse of the pardon process in the exact, immature way that has happened."

House committee continues inquiry

Today, the House Government Reform Committee convenes a hearing on another pardon granted by Clinton that has raised concerns.

In that case, Clinton pardoned longtime tax-evasion fugitive Marc Rich after a personal session with Rich's attorney, former Clinton counsel Jack Quinn.

The Rich pardon request had been stalled for some time because of strong opposition by prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in New York.

Mark Corallo, a committee spokesman, said the panel also will raise questions about the 47 cases that sidestepped the normal process.

"The committee is deeply concerned by this unfortunate situation, and we intend to look into it," he said.

"We've asked the Justice Department to provide the paperwork for the other 47. But we have not received a response yet.

"The paperwork should have gone to the Justice Department, but they're saying they haven't received it yet. And that is what all of our lawyers are looking into," Corallo said.