Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Presidential Pardon

How do you feel about this sweeping power that the President has and how it is used?
by Charlie Leck

A Brief and Incomplete History of the Presidential Pardon
The Presidential Pardon is absolute and cannot be overturned by Congress, the Courts or the people! It is an awesome “big stick” that the President wields and, though it is most often used sparingly and judiciously, it has been occasionally abused and used expansively. In 1991, for example, Bill Clinton pardoned 141 people. (More about that later.)

The first presidential pardon, and the first pardon that overturned an impending death sentence, was used by George Washington in 1795. He pardoned and granted amnesty to those people who had participated in the Whiskey Rebellion – a protest against the tax that Congress had placed on whiskey sales. The government had to call in troops to put down the rebellion and the leaders of the uprising were convicted of treason.

Andrew Johnson, the 17th President, who took office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, granted a blanket pardon to southern civil war soldiers on the condition they would swear an oath of loyalty to the United States of America. The pardon was issued shortly after the Civil War ended.

One of the nation’s most famous pardons was issued by Richard Nixon in 1971. Nixon imposed a condition of Jimmy Hoffa that he would not engage in the direct or indirect management of any labor organization. After getting Hoffa’s promise, Nixon pardoned the jury tampering conviction that had sent Hoffa to prison.

Gerald Ford pardoned Tokyo Rose the famous voice of the Second World War that had so tormented American soldiers on the front lines.

Ford’s pardon of the former president, Richard M. Nixon, was probably the most famous one in American history. Nixon had resigned from office as a result of the Watergate scandal and it was highly likely that he would have faced criminal prosecution for his participation in the events surrounding it. Ford told the American public that it was a scandal that could go on and on and that only he “could write the end of it… and, if I can, I must.”

George H. W. Bush pardoned those government officials who had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Casper Weinberger, former Defense Secretary.

Bill Clinton’s Presidential Pardons
No president in history made use of the Presidential Pardon as Bill Clinton did. On 20 January 2001, his last day in office, Clinton issued 140 pardons. The two most famous of those were his half-brother, Roger Clinton, of drug charges for which he had already served the entire 10 year sentence, and Marc Rich, a fugitive who had been charged with tax evasion and whose wife was a huge donor to Clinton campaign coffers. Roger would be charged with drunk driving and disorderly conduct with a year of that pardon. Rich was required to pay a fine of 100 million dollars and to waive use of the pardon as a defense against future civil charges.

On that date, Clinton also pardoned Susan McDougal, a close personal friend, who had been convicted and served her sentence for her role in the Whitewater scandal, and Dan Rostenkowski, a former Democratic Congressman who had been convicted in a Congressional Post Office scandal. Rostenkowski had also served his entire sentence.

One of the more scandalous pardons on that final day of the Clinton administration was the one granted to Melvin J. Reynolds, a Democratic Congressman from Illinois, who had been convicted of bank fraud, 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice, and the solicitation of child pornography. Clinton commuted Reynolds’ sentence of the bank fraud charges and he served the final months of his sentence in a half-way house. Fortunately, he had already served his entire sentence on the child sex abuse charges.

Prior to that date, Clinton had granted pardons of one sort or another to 16 members of FALN, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group. They had been sentenced to serve terms ranging from 35 to 105 years in prison. All had put 19 years or more of time in prison prior to their pardon. Ten Nobel Peace Prize winners had appealed to Clinton to grant the pardon. The action incited a storm of protest and a severe condemnation from both the Senate and the House.

Clinton granted 459 pardons during his presidency. Ronald Reagan granted 409.

Who Might Bush Pardon?
The heavy talk regarding a Bush pardon is about Scooter Libby and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens has said he will not ask Bush for a pardon and will allow his case to play out its life in the appeals courts. Libby already had his prison sentence commuted, but he was forced to pay a quarter-million dollar fine and give up his law license in the District of Columbia. Most people are saying that Bush will avoid any further leniency for Libby, but I think he may restore his license to practice in the Nation’s capitol.

Bush has over 2,300 applications in front of him for pardons, including that of Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King, who had pled guilty to six felonies. Milken paid 200 million dollars in fines, served 22 months in prison and has since been a generous philanthropist.

Bush is also considering the application of Edwin Edwards, the former governor of Louisiana who was indicted in 1998 of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud.

The former California member of the House, Randy “Duke” Cunningham is also asking for a pardon. He was convicted of only 17 counts of accepting at least 2 million dollars in bribes. He also pled guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion. The current President’s father has lobbied hard for Cunningham’s pardon.

Marion Jones, the former Olympian who was stripped of her medals, has also asked for clemency. She is a strong candidate.

The most closely watched case has to do with two former U.S. Border Patrol agents who were convicted of killing a fleeing Mexican drug dealer in 2005. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean have had strong and sentimental support from American citizens who think they were unfairly punished for doing their duty. Appeals for their sentence commutation have come from Republican House members Tom Tancredo (Colorado) and John Cornyn (Texas). Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein (California) has also appealed to the President to pardon them.

John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and has been referred to as the “American Taliban” has also applied. Lindh has pled guilty to serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

There is also some speculation that Bush may extend a preemptive criminal pardon for any administration officials who might have been involved in torture of prisoners or unlawful surveillance. This, however, may involve disclosures that Bush would rather not make.

I haven’t yet tried to understand what was in the minds of our founding fathers when they provided this incredible stroke of power to the Chief Executive. We’ll leave that for another time.

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