Among those pardoned was a Massachusetts fishing magnate who pleaded guilty more than 20 years ago to laundering Canadian fish and selling them to the Defense Department as American fish.
Two Washington area residents were on the pardons list released Friday. Jamari Salleh of Alexandria, a former foreign service officer, had been sentenced for submitting phony lodging vouchers to the State Department. Robert Leroy Bebee of Rockville is an accomplished biotechnology inventor whose offense was concealing information about a felony.
The pardons, the first of Obama’s second term, are significant because this president so infrequently grants clemency.
Before Friday, Obama had granted 22 pardons; he had received petitions from 1,333 individuals, according to the data maintained by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. He granted his first batch of pardons, totaling nine, in December 2010, and granted eight in May 2011 and five in November 2011.
By contrast, former president George W. Bush received 2,498 petitions and granted 189 pardons, while former president Bill Clinton received 2,001 petitions and granted 396 pardons, according to the data.
Dafna Linzer of ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, reported last year that Obama has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president. Among the hundreds of people who have been denied pardons by Obama, Linzer reported, are a former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring and a retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land.
Obama has come under criticism for not using more frequently his constitutional powers to pardon people for federal crimes. Some academics argue that the president could have more impact by pardoning younger people with more recent crimes.
“He’s not only being extremely stingy, but he’s giving pardons to people who arguably need them the very least,” said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist at Rock Valley College in Illinois who blogs about presidential pardons. “The people who need pardons are people in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are trying to get jobs and raise families.”
Jeffrey Crouch, a political science professor at American University, said the pardons announced Friday mirror those Obama granted in his first term.
“The president’s pattern has been pretty much to go for the safe route — look for older offenses, nonviolent offenses — and using the pardon power in some cases just enough to not be criticized for not using it at all,” said Crouch, author of “The Presidential Pardon Power.”