The pardons outraged local attorneys and prosecutors, who said they were not consulted during the process. As the backlash continued to build Friday, Republicans in the Kentucky state Senate issued a statement blasting Bevin.
“From what we know of former governor Matt Bevin’s extreme pardons and commutations, the Senate Republicans condemn his actions as a travesty and perversion of justice,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said. “Our citizens, and especially the crime victims and their families, deserve better.”
Stivers called for the U.S. attorney's office to launch an investigation into the matter. Several Democratic lawmakers also are calling for the state attorney general or a special prosecutor to investigate.
On Friday, Bevin responded to his critics in a series of 20 tweets. He said he spent “hundreds of hours” reviewing pardon applications and made each decision based on the “set of facts, evidence, lack of evidence, supporting documents, reasons and unique details.”
Bevin added it was “highly offensive and entirely false” for anyone to suggest “political or financial considerations” played a role in his decisions.
“The criminal justice system is intended to find the proper balance between justice for the victims and rehabilitation for the offenders. When it is not possible to guarantee more of either being accomplished by further incarceration, it is reasonable for a person to be considered for either a commutation or a pardon,” Bevin wrote. “This is never an exact science. … The entire criminal justice system hinges upon the judgment of third parties.
Bevin, a devout Christian, also strongly defended himself from charges he endangered public safety.
“Not one person receiving a pardon would I not welcome as a co-worker, neighbor, or to sit beside me or any member of my family in a church pew or at a public event,” he wrote. “No community is either more or less safe now, than it was before the pardons and commutations given over the past four years.”
In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Commonwealth Attorney Jackie Steele, a prosecutor for Knox and Laurel counties, said Bevin’s pardons represented an “atrocity of justice” that put his “community in danger.”
Kayla Epstein contributed to this story.