By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Breaking a logjam of hundreds of pent-up clemency requests, President Bush yesterday granted pardons to 14 people and shortened the prison terms of two others.
The majority of the felons who won leniency from Bush yesterday are far from household names.
Andrew F. Harley of Falls Church was pardoned for wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine after a court-martial by the Air Force Academy in 1985 caused him to forfeit his pay and prompted his dismissal from the service. Leslie O. Collier of Charleston, Mo., had been convicted of unauthorized use of a registered pesticide. Obie G. Helton of Rossville, Ga., was pardoned after conviction on charges of acquiring food stamps without proper permission and sentenced to two years' probation in 1983.
Several other offenders who won leniency yesterday were convicted of run-of-the-mill white-collar crimes such as bank embezzlement, tax evasion or accounting violations. Pardons give their recipients greater leeway to find jobs, live in public housing and vote, among other privileges.
Over seven years in office, Bush has been reluctant to use his near-absolute authority under the U.S. Constitution, awarding only 157 pardons and six commutations before yesterday.
But that pattern could ease during the waning days of his term. People close to the process say that lawyers with political connections increasingly have approached the White House directly to seek relief for their high-profile clients, including former junk-bond king Michael Milken, former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards.
No one who received clemency yesterday approached that level of national renown. But because of Bush's actions, Grammy Award-winning rap artist John E. Forte of North Brunswick, N.J., will be released after serving about half of a 14-year sentence for aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Forte, whose clemency bid was supported by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), has been scheduled for release Dec. 22. He had performed with the Fugees and is a friend of and former backup singer for Carly Simon, who lobbied senior lawmakers, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), for his early release.
Each of the clemency decisions yesterday moved through the normal course of business, which starts with an application to the Justice Department Office of the Pardon Attorney. Applicants undergo an FBI check, prosecutors and judges often are consulted for their recommendations, and the submissions make their way to the deputy attorney general before moving to the White House counsel's office and on to the president.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.