By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008
President Bush took the remarkable step yesterday of reversing a pardon that he granted the day before to a Brooklyn, N.Y., real estate developer, whose relatives contributed more than $40,000 to Republicans before his clemency petition was filed with the White House.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said neither Bush nor counsel Fred Fielding was aware of the GOP contributions from the father of Isaac Robert Toussie, who had been convicted of mail fraud and of making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perino said Bush had also been unaware of other aspects of the Toussie case that were revealed in news reports yesterday.
"Looking at the totality of the case, more could have been described to the president," Perino said. "The political contributions certainly were not known. It raises the appearance of impropriety, so the president prudently decided not to go through with the pardon."
Perino said Toussie's clemency request was submitted to the Justice Department's pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers. But Perino said Rodgers decided he could not consider the petition because it was filed less than five years after Toussie completed his sentence. Toussie then filed his petition with Fielding's office earlier this month.
The timeline means Bush had no more than a few weeks to consider the case's merits. Perino and other officials said they were unaware of any other presidential pardon ever having been rescinded.
Toussie is represented by Washington defense attorney Bradford A. Berenson, who served as an associate White House counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.
Berenson said in a statement that Toussie "is deeply grateful that both the Counsel to the President and the President himself found Mr. Toussie's pardon application to have sufficient merit to be granted," and suggested he remained optimistic about his chances. Berenson declined further comment.
Toussie pleaded guilty to mail fraud and lying to HUD, admitting that he falsified finances of prospective home buyers seeking HUD mortgages, and was sentenced to five months in prison and five months' house arrest in July 2003. The New York Daily News also noted that hundreds of former customers filed a federal lawsuit against Toussie, accusing him of luring poor, minority home buyers into agreeing to overpriced mortgages with hidden costs.
Federal election records show $37,700 in donations to Republicans this year by Toussie's father, developer Robert Toussie, including a $28,500 donation in April to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The elder Toussie's wife, Laura, also gave $2,300 each to GOP Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Gordon Smith of Oregon, records show.
The power to grant pardons, which are absolute and can be given for no reason at all, has proven politically problematic for many presidents. Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for issuing dozens of pardons in his final days that included fugitive financier Marc Rich, while Bush's father came under fire for forgiving Caspar Weinberger and others involved in the Iran-contra affair.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.