Former president Jimmy Carter said today that Bill Clinton abused his power and brought disgrace to the White House with his last-minute pardon of fugitive Marc Rich.

"I think President Clinton made one of his most serious mistakes in the way he handled the pardon situation the last few hours he was in office," Carter said during a speech at Georgia Southwestern State University. "A number of them were quite questionable, including about 40 not recommended by the Justice Department."

Of the pardon of Rich, Carter said: "I don't think there is any doubt that some of the factors in his pardon were attributable to his large gifts. In my opinion, that was disgraceful."

Clinton insists there was nothing wrong with his pardon of Rich. Until the pardon, Rich had been wanted by the Justice Department, which accused him of fraud, illegal oil deals with Iran and evasion of more than $48 million in taxes.

The pardon is the subject of congressional hearings and a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.

Carter said he pardoned about 500 people in four years in the White House -- most of those in the first three years, and none during the final weeks of his term. He left office in 1981.

"I never pardoned anyone whose pardon was not recommended to me after a complete investigation by the Justice Department," he said.