Bush Rejected Flurry of Requests for Clemency

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; 3:16 PM

In his last days in office, President George W. Bush formally rejected clemency requests from a host of prominent business and political figures, including junk bond king Michael Milken and former California lawmaker Randy "Duke" Cunningham, according to newly released Justice Department records.

Bush's decision frustrated several well-heeled felons and the expensive Washington lawyers they hired to make their case. Over the past several months, lawyers with GOP ties and veterans of the White House counsel's office signed on to advocate for convicts at sums that at times exceeded $500,000, according to lawyers who received solicitations.

In many instances, legal advocates made their pitches directly to the White House, bypassing Justice Department staff members who can take 18 months or longer to process clemency applications.

Yet Bush left office last week with the most tight-fisted clemency record in recent history, according to scholars of the pardon power. Bush granted 189 pardons and shortened 11 prison terms.

Former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, serving a 10-year prison term on racketeering and public corruption charges, was among the petitioners whose hopes were dashed last week even though he had secured a personal letter of support from the then-president's father, George H.W. Bush.

A clemency request by John Walker Lindh, dubbed the American Taliban after his 2001 capture in Afghanistan, also was formally rejected by Bush, as was one from Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist serving life in prison for his role in the shooting of two FBI agents more than 30 years ago. Peltier's supporters question his guilt and the fairness of his trial.

Clemency petitions lodged by a few other high-profile convicts are still being processed by the Justice Department's Office of Pardon Attorney, according to spokeswoman Laura Sweeney.

That leaves open the possibility that President Barack Obama still could shorten the prison term of the former governor of his home state of Illinois. A bid by George Ryan (R) to win early release from prison has won support from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and former governor Jim Thompson (R). Ryan's advocates have cited the health problems of his wife and his good works, including his moratorium on executions in Illinois in 2000.

Requests by two well-known business leaders also continue to be considered by Justice Department lawyers. Former Hollinger International chief Conrad Black, imprisoned last year on fraud charges in connection with financial woes at his newspaper empire, and former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers, who is serving a 25-year prison term for his role in what was the nation's largest ever bankruptcy, still hold out hopes of release.

The same goes for Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy analyst convicted of sharing sensitive information with Israel. Government officials in Israel have lobbied aggressively for Pollard's release from a life sentence. Pollard, currently incarcerated in Butner, N.C., has been behind bars since 1987.

Another Washington figure, onetime Bush White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, never submitted a formal pardon request, Justice Department officials said. Then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had sought a pardon for Libby after Bush shortened his prison sentence in 2007. Cheney has been critical of Bush's inaction in the case.

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