A subsequent story published in May recounted the saga of Clarence Aaron, a first-time offender sentenced in 1993 to three life terms in prison for his role in a drug conspiracy. In 2008, the pardon attorney recommended that President George W. Bush deny Aaron’s request for a commutation, even though his application had the support of the prosecutor’s office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him. The pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, did not fully disclose that information to the White House.
The handling of Aaron’s case prompted widespread criticism that the pardon office — which has rejected applications at an unprecedented pace under Rodgers — is not giving clemency requests proper consideration.
Aaron in 2010 filed a new commutation request, which is pending. In the past two months, his cause has been taken up by members of Congress, law professors and prominent civil rights advocates, many of whom have called for a broader investigation of the pardon process.
Fewer presidential actions
Since 2008, more than 7,000 applications for commutation have been denied, more than 22 times the total rejected in President Ronald Reagan’s two terms. President Obama has commuted the sentence of one person.
Recent presidents also have granted fewer pardons than their predecessors. Bush granted 189 during his two-term presidency, less than half the number given by President Bill Clinton.
So far, Obama has pardoned 22 people. Advisers to the president said they expect that number to rise significantly whether or not he is elected to a second term.
“There will be 76 days between the election and inauguration for the president to exercise his power,” said one official, who was not authorized to talk publicly and so spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officials said there has been growing interest inside the White House in reforming the pardon process, specifically how recommendations are made to the president.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich would not comment on the status of Aaron’s petition, saying the administration does not discuss individual cases.
The Justice Department also had no comment on Aaron’s request. But two individuals involved in the case said the White House had asked the department for a new review in recent weeks.
The assessment is being conducted by Helen M. Bollwerk, the deputy pardon attorney. Rodgers will take no part in the case this time, according to a person involved.