A story Jan. 21 about presidential pardons and commuted prison sentences incorrectly reported the status of Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans; their sentences on weapons charges were commuted. The story also omitted that the charges relating to the 1981 Brink's armored truck robbery were dropped when Rosenberg was convicted in the New Jersey weapons case. The accompanying graphic incorrectly described the legal status of former Arizona governor J. Fife Symington III. He was convicted of bank fraud, but his conviction was overturned and the case was remanded back to a lower court. He never served any time in prison. (Published 1/22/01)
Just two hours before surrendering the White House, President Clinton gave parting gifts that lifted 176 Americans out of legal trouble, granting pardons to figures from the Whitewater scandal, former Cabinet members, an ex-governor, onetime fugitive heiress Patricia Hearst Shaw and his own brother, Roger Clinton.
The extraordinary list, eclipsing in magnitude and scope the last-minute legal forgiveness dispensed by previous presidents, includes Susan McDougal, who was convicted of bank fraud in the Whitewater case, then went to prison for refusing to say whether Clinton had testified truthfully at her trial. Clinton pardoned his former secretary of housing and urban development, Henry Cisneros, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about how much money he had given a former mistress. The mistress, political fundraiser Linda Jones, yesterday was granted a pardon, too.
Other beneficiaries of Clinton's generosity include an international financier and indicted fugitive, Marc Rich; a leftist radical convicted of conspiring to bomb the U.S. Capitol; a woman who illegally gave an eagle feather to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); and an array of drug offenders serving long prison terms under mandatory sentencing laws. In a rare move, Clinton also pardoned two former government officials who have not even been convicted: ex-Arizona governor J. Fife Symington III, who was facing a retrial on charges of real estate fraud, and John Deutch, who was in the midst of negotiating a plea agreement with the Justice Department over security violations while he directed the CIA.
The 140 pardons and 36 commuted prison sentences are as notable for those omitted as for those Clinton forgave. The outgoing president decided not to pardon junk bond trader Michael Milken or Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader convicted in the shooting deaths of a pair of FBI agents.
Similarly, Clinton did not pardon Webster Hubbell, a former law partner of Hillary Clinton, or Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former Navy analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel.
Taken together, the pardons were a dramatic final gesture for a president whose tenure was marred by his own legal controversies -- and who had reached an agreement with prosecutors only one day earlier to ward off any possibility of his own indictment.
Through some of his pardons, Clinton appeared to be tying up loose ends from many of the independent counsel investigations that had daunted him and several senior members of his administration virtually from the beginning of his tenure.
Some of his wide-ranging pardons provoked swift denunciation, although relatives of people whose prison sentences he lifted praised him lavishly.
Sources from both the Clinton White House and the Justice Department said the final list emerged from a frenzied and secretive process in which the outgoing president brooded over several prominent names until early yesterday morning. Clinton, who remained awake throughout his entire final night as president, did not give the list his final approval until mid-morning, immediately before it was made public.
Roger Adams, the U.S. pardon attorney in the Justice Department who has been involved with pardons throughout the Clinton administration and now oversees the process, said yesterday: "I've never seen anything like this."
"We were up literally all night as the White House continued to add names of people they wanted to pardon," Adams said. "Many people on the list didn't even apply for pardons." Some requests from the White House arrived so late, Adams said, that pardon officials did not have time to conduct record checks with the FBI.
The names his office received for the first time Friday night, Adams said, included Roger Clinton, the president's younger brother, who pleaded guilty in 1985 to conspiring to distribute cocaine. Adams said they also included Richard Riley Jr., the son of Clinton's secretary of education, who was sentenced to house arrest in 1993 on federal charges of conspiring to sell cocaine and marijuana.
Clinton's press aides issued the list of names yesterday morning without elaboration. They did not explain who the people are or what the president's rationale had been.
Sources close to Clinton said the president had a particularly difficult time deciding what to do about a few people he knows personally. They include McDougal -- whom he ultimately pardoned -- and former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, who was not pardoned. Aides said that Clinton had been eager to pardon Tucker, who was convicted of fraud in a conspiracy related to Whitewater, but that his staff warned him such a move would meet public disapproval.
The ability to grant pardons is a prerogative of U.S. presidents, under the Constitution. Pardons -- or official, legal forgiveness -- do not erase a criminal record, but restore any citizen rights that were lost as a result. Ordinarily, pardons are given to people who have served sentences and rehabilitated themselves through contributions to society and other good works.
"Sometimes people want it because of a specific civic disability -- so they can go hunting again, or get into the securities business," said lawyer Margaret Love, a specialist who was the Justice Department's pardon attorney under both Clinton and former president George Bush. "But . . . most simply want . . . to remove the stigma of being a convicted felon."
Clinton is not the first president whose pardon decisions have been controversial. Most notably, President Gerald R. Ford provoked a firestorm of dissent when he pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon. Throughout his two terms, Clinton granted nearly 400 pardons, almost six times as many as the first President Bush did during his single term, and about as many as President Reagan -- although Reagan granted them at a relatively steady pace with no last-minute surprises.
Commutations, on the other hand, are generally granted to shorten a sentence that is deemed too long or otherwise unfair -- or to reward cooperation with the government. Many of yesterday's commutations, an unusually large number to be granted at one time, involve first-time or relatively minor drug offenders whose more culpable co-defendants ended up serving shorter sentences.
But Clinton also commuted the death penalty of Piedmont, Ala., marijuana trafficker David Ronald Chandler, who is on death row in Terre Haute, Ind., for arranging the murder of a police informer. The main witness in the case against Chandler recanted his testimony and acknowledged committing the murder himself.
Chandler, whose sentence now will be life without parole, was to have been the first person executed by the federal government since 1963. Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, said that Attorney General Janet Reno had personally recommended the change in Chandler's sentence at the last minute.
"God bless President Clinton," his wife, Deborah, yesterday told the Associated Press.
Antoinette Frink, now 49, former owner of a car dealership in Delaware, Ohio, was released from a federal women's prison in Lexington, Ky., yesterday after serving 11 years of a 15 1/2-year sentence for selling cars to a drug trafficker who used them to run cocaine. Co-defendants received sentences ranging from six months to six years after cooperating with authorities.
"She's extremely happy," Ross Nabatoff, her Washington attorney, said yesterday. "I just got off the phone with her. I told her, 'Get out as soon as you can. Don't pack your bags.' "
Others, however, greeted some of Clinton's decisions with less enthusiasm.
A lawyer who had prosecuted Rich and his longtime associate, Pincus Green, expressed outrage. "This is astounding," said Morris Weinberg Jr., a Democrat.
In September 1983, Rich and Green, along with Rich's Swiss trading firm, Marc Rich & Co., were indicted in what was then the largest tax-evasion case in U.S. history. At the time, Rich and Green were in Switzerland, and have never returned. Attempts to extradite them were unsuccessful because Swiss officials said the extradition treaty did not cover tax fraud.
For those who had submitted applications to the Justice Department seeking pardons, Adams, the pardon attorney, said he could not comment on whether the department had supported or opposed their request. But in the case of one woman forgiven by Clinton, Susan Rosenberg, a member of the radical group, the Weather Underground, Adams said: "We certainly made the White House aware on a number of occasions that there were victims in the crimes committed by Rosenberg and that we were aware of their feelings."
Rosenberg was one of two 1960s radicals, imprisoned on weapons charges, who won pardons. She was charged with conspiracy in the 1981 robbery of a Brink's armored truck in New York, during which two police officers and a security guard were killed. The other one, Linda Sue Evans, was serving a 40-year sentence for her role in a 1983 bombing attempt on the U.S. Capitol.
Clinton commuted the prison terms of several prominent New Yorkers who are now constituents of his wife, the junior senator from that state. They are three leaders of New York's Hasidic community accused of bilking the government out of millions in education, housing and business loans and grants. Benjamin Berger, Jacob Elbaum and David Goldstein, of the Rockland County community of New Square in Rockland County, all faced long prison terms.
Among the most striking group to win pardons, however, were those connected to the various scandals that marred Clinton's tenure in the White House.
In addition to McDougal, Clinton pardoned two other lesser-known figures from the Whitewater case: Stephen A. Smith, a former aide to Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas who pleaded guilty to misusing a loan; and Robert W. Palmer, a Little Rock appraiser who pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Clinton wiped the slate clean on independent counsel Donald Smaltz's investigation of former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who was acquitted of accepting illegal gifts, but not before the probe swept up a number of his associates.
He commuted the 27-month sentence of former Espy chief of staff Ronald H. Blackley, convicted of making false statements regarding $22,000 he accepted from agribusiness friends. And he pardoned four others convicted of lesser offenses linked to the Espy probe. "I believe the decision was made to release or pardon everybody connected to the Smaltz investigation," said Blackley attorney Sheldon Krantz.
Yesterday, Cisneros, the former housing secretary, dispatched a statement saying that he "did not seek nor request this presidential action." He said the unexpected pardon was "completely in keeping with the generosity and understanding of President Clinton."
Staff writers James Grimaldi, Guy Gugliotta and John Harris, research director Margot Williams, and researchers Lynn Davis, Bobbye Pratt and Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.