As President Bush's Term Comes to an End, Some Well-Known Offenders Seek Pardons
Monday, November 24, 2008
With a backlog of applications piled up at the Justice Department, high-profile criminals and their well-connected lawyers increasingly are appealing directly to President Bush for special consideration on pardons and clemency, according to people involved in the process.
Among those seeking presidential action are former junk-bond salesman Michael Milken, who hired former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, one of the nation's most prominent GOP lawyers, to plead his case for a pardon on 1980s-era securities fraud charges. Two politicians convicted of public corruption, former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and four-term Louisiana governor Edwin W. Edwards (D), are asking Bush to shorten their prison terms.
It remains to be seen how Bush will respond to these requests as his term ends. The president has used his broad pardon powers rarely during seven years in office, granting 157 pardons out of 2,064 petitions, and only six of 7,707 requests for commutations, according to an analysis by former Justice Department lawyer Margaret C. Love.
Aggressive appeals for clemency at the end of an administration are not unusual, but they can raise concerns about influence peddling and fairness, particularly if the president and his legal advisers are not fully transparent, pardon scholars say.
During his last days in office, President Bill Clinton prompted congressional and federal investigations by pardoning 140 people, including his brother, former Arkansas real estate partner Susan McDougal and fugitive financier Marc Rich. White House officials and former deputy attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., now a contender for attorney general under President-elect Barack Obama, testified about the last-minute pardons in fiery congressional hearings.
Bush has not mentioned pardons often, but in a statement released in July 2007, he said "the Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "Generally the president will review pardon recommendations as he has throughout his presidency, in a thoughtful way . . . on a case-by-case basis, and he'll make his determination."
Not all prominent criminals chose to seek presidential intervention. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican, told reporters this week that he would not ask Bush to pardon him on his recent seven-count felony conviction.
Onetime vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whose prison term Bush commuted last year, has not submitted a formal pardon request, the Justice Department said.
Efforts by high-profile felons come as a list of more routine applicants awaits action from a special Justice Department pardons office, a process that may take up to 18 months. Last month alone, 103 felons submitted pardon applications and 280 sought commutation of their prison terms, according to department statistics. Those figures stack atop an already daunting backlog of hundreds more petitions.
The overwhelming majority of petitioners are not household names. Rather, they are people who served prison time for garden-variety fraud or drug offenses and now seek the president's help so they can vote, live in public housing, own handguns or find jobs.
Clemency is the umbrella term for people seeking presidential relief after being convicted of a felony crime. Some applicants request their sentences be commuted, or shortened, by White House action. Others seek a formal pardon, described by one former Justice Department official as "an official statement of forgiveness."