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Thousands Sought Pardons or Commutations from Bush, but Few Were Fortunate

It is not unusual to see an increase in requests for pardons in the waning days of a presidential administration. President Clinton, for example, received 1,827 petitions during his final year in office. However, with harsh mandatory minimums, tough sentencing guidelines and the abolition of parole for federal prisoners, former President Bush received over 2,300 clemency requests in fiscal year 2008, an all-time high.

Among the individuals seeking pardons were Michael Milken, the former junk bond king turned philanthropist, who was convicted of securities fraud in 1990. Other notables included Randy Cunningham, a former Congressman from California; Edwin Edwards, a former Democratic governor of Louisiana; John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban; and Marion Jones, a former Olympic sprinter. Each was seeking a pardon or commutation of their prison sentence.

The influx of petitions in Bush’s final days added to a substantial backlog of more than 2,000 pending petitions, most of which were from “ordinary people who committed garden-variety crimes,” stated Margaret Colgate Love, a clemency lawyer.

Ms. Love, who served as the U.S. Pardon Attorney from 1990 to 1997, said the backlog was overwhelming the vetting process.

“I have cases that date from the Clinton administration,” she remarked. “I have cases that I filed in the last two or three years and have not even gotten any word about the first step of the investigation being authorized. It’s unbelievable.”

The Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney is responsible for reviewing, investigating and making recommendations to the president regarding requests for clemency. The office is staffed with about a half-dozen people, and experienced a recent upheaval after former U.S. Pardon Attorney Randy Adams was reassigned early last year following a scandal that involved claims of racism and retaliation. [See: PLN, Nov. 2008, p.31].

Two of Bush’s last-minute pardons, on the eve of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, included commuting the prison terms of U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who had received 11- and 12-year sentences, respectively, for shooting and wounding a fleeing suspect and trying to cover-up the incident.

Another of Bush’s pardons, granted to real estate developer Isaac Toussie, was withdrawn after it generated extensive criticism. Toussie, who was convicted of mail fraud and making false statements in 2001, is a defendant in a pending lawsuit alleging racism, racketeering and fraud related to his real estate dealings. His father had made substantial donations to leading Republican lawmakers.

On January 19, 2009, White House officials indicated that no more pardons would be forthcoming – meaning that Milken, Cunningham, Lindh and other notables were out of luck. Even Lewis “Scooter” Libby was passed over. Libby was widely expected to receive a pardon after taking a bullet for the Bush administration; he had been sentenced to 30 months on perjury charges related to an investigation into the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, though Bush had previously commuted his sentence.

Bush granted 200 requests for pardons and commutations during his eight years in office, compared with 406 by former President Reagan and 457 by former President Clinton.

Sources: New York Times; Los Angeles Times,, CNN

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