Pardon Me, AP; Story on Bush Glosses Over Clinton Pardon Legacy

GeorgeWBushAndBillClintonIn her story about pardon applications submitted to the Bush Justice Department before the President leaves office, the Associated Press's Lara Jakes Jordan made it seem as if pardon applicants appealing directly to the president is a new thing, and whitewashed the last-minute flurry of pardons granted by Bill Clinton in 2001.

Here are the key passages from Jordan's story:

Some high-profile convicts past and present are among more than 2,000 people asking President George W. Bush to pardon them or commute their prison sentences before he leaves office.

Junk-bond king Michael Milken, media mogul Conrad Black and American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh have applied to the Justice Department seeking official forgiveness.

But with Bush's term ending Jan. 20, some lawyers are lobbying the White House directly to pardon their clients. That raises the possibility that the president could excuse scores of people, including some who have not been charged, to protect them from future accusations, such as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or star baseball pitcher Roger Clemens.

Those who have worked with Bush predict that will not happen.

..... Last week, Bush issued 14 pardons and commuted two sentences - all for small-time crimes such as minor drug offenses, tax evasion and unauthorized use of food stamps. That brought his eight-year total to 171 pardons and eight commutations granted.

That is less than half as many as President Bill Clinton or President Ronald Reagan issued. Both were two-term presidents, like Bush.

..... Already, Democrats and other Bush critics are warning the president against getting overly generous with his power of forgiveness. Of particular concern is whether he will issue pre-emptive pardons to protect allies and some government employees from facing future charges for carrying out his policies.

Some of those people could include officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists after Sept. 11, 2001. Critics want incoming President-elect Barack Obama to investigate possible war crimes.

..... Clinton's 2001 last-day pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich tainted Democrats who worked for him - including then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder who is now awaiting Obama's nomination to run the Justice Department.

Space prevents identifying all of the article's oversights, but here are the major ones:

  • Jordan failed to note that Clinton's pardon of Rich was an example of the "direct lobbying" she fretted over earlier. In fact, if you didn't know the history, you would think that the "direct" route is something being employed under Bush for the first time. But liberal columnist Richard Cohen decried the Rich pardon on Monday at IBDeditorials.com as a prior example of going "direct," writing that "(Rich lawyer Jack) Quinn did an end run around the Justice Department's pardon office and went straight to (Eric) Holder and the White House. With a stroke of the pen, justice was not done." Cohen believes that Holder should not become Barack Obama's attorney general on the basis of the Rich pardon alone. I would include Holder's extra-legal, reality-denying role in the Elian Gonzalez affair ("He was not taken at the point of a gun") as another disqualifier.
  • Jordan said nothing about the timing of most of Bill Clinton's pardons. The Justice Department's "Clemency Actions by Administration" web page (not updated for Bush's latest pardons as of early this morning), shows that well over half of the Clinton's pardons (218 of 396) were granted during his final months in office. By contrast, Reagan's and Bush 43's pardons were spread relatively evenly through their terms.
  • She also failed to note that 140 of the Clinton pardons were granted on January 20, 2001, his final day as president. The official DOJ pardons list for January of that year even fails to list the offenses of the following pardon recipients: Henry Cisneros, Roger Clinton, Susan McDougal, Rich, Stephen A. Smith, John Fife Symington, and Christopher Wade. The important context in comparing presidents, which is supposedly what Jordan was doing, is that Reagan didn't (and no one expects Bush to) have the last-minute, process-be-damned free-for-all that the Clinton pardons exercise turned into.
  • Unlike the "small-time crimes" Jordan referred to in describing Bush's latest group of 14 pardons, Clinton's last-minute flurry included bigtime criminals with sordid histories, including drug kingpin Carlos Vignali, drug money-launderer Harvey Weinig, and at least two embezzlers of over $1 million. In February 2001 at Human Events, Deroy Murdock documented possible campaign contribution-related connections to some of the Clinton pardons, further stating that "Bill Clinton's soft spot for hardened criminals is a national disgrace."
  • Like many others in the press, Jordan seems obsessed with Bush's alleged "war crimes," oblivious to the "Victory Across the Board" achieved in Iraq, and relatively quiet about real war criminals like "Chemical Ali," who was sentenced to death in Iraq today.

So pardon me, AP and Ms. Jordan, if I say that your story doesn't get a pass from me.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.