Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Presidential Pardons - 27,311 and Going Strong

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president "Power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." A reprieve reduces the severity of a punishment without removing the guilt of the person reprieved. A pardon removes both punishment and guilt.

For 214 years, well over 27,000 pardons* have been granted by 40 U.S. Presidents. That number continued to grow on Monday as President George W. Bush granted such pardons to 14 individuals and commuted the prison sentences of two others convicted of misdeeds including drug offenses, tax evasion, wildlife violations and bank embezzlement. The new round of White House pardons announced Monday are Bush's first since March and come less than two months before he will end his presidency. The crimes committed by those on the list also include offenses involving hazardous waste, food stamps, and the theft of government property.

Bush has been stingy during his time in office about granting clemency, but more grants are expected before his term ends on January 20, 2009. Including these actions, in nearly eight years, he has granted a total of 171 pardons and eight commutations. That's less than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their time in office. Both were two-term presidents, like Bush.

Yesterdays pardons brought back memories of the most infamous of pardons in this country’s history. That list includes the following:

Congress enacted a steep tax on spirits in 1791 to help pay down the national debt, and hard-hit small producers protested by taking to the streets in western Pennsylvania. They quickly formed a multi-state armed rebellion and President George Washington called in 13,000 troops to quell the opposition. Intent on emphasizing federalist power, the government charged the whiskey rebel leaders with treason against the U.S., although many were released due to a lack of evidence. Virginia Governor Henry Lee, on Washington's behalf, issued a general pardon for those who had participated "in the wicked and unhappy tumults and disturbances lately existing," even though some of the rebels had not even been indicted. Only a few men had trials and two were convicted of treason (which meant death by hanging). Eventually, Washington pardoned those who had treason convictions and indictments. It was the first pardon in American history that overturned a criminal conviction, and the first time under the young U.S. Constitution that the federal government wielded military force to quell its own citizens.

The 17th President, Andrew Johnson, took office the day that Lincoln died from gunshot wounds. Johnson had a mixed reputation, having stayed in the Senate as his home state of Tennessee seceded in 1861; he was popular in the North, but considered a traitor by those in the South. After becoming President in 1865, he moved forward on reconstruction. While Congress was not in session, he pardoned Southerners in the Confederate States on the condition that they would take an oath of loyalty to the Union. But Johnson, who grew up poor and had a dislike of the rich and privileged, wouldn't grant blanket amnesty to several classes of Southerners, requiring leaders and wealthy men to obtain their own special Presidential pardons.

The head of the Teamsters had been serving a 15-year prison sentence for jury tampering and fraud when President Richard Nixon pardoned him on Dec. 23, 1971. Nixon had one condition, however: Hoffa should "not engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization" until at least March 1980. Hoffa agreed and supported Nixon's re-election bid in 1972. It is believed that Hoffa was trying to reassert his power over the Teamsters, defying Nixon's requirement, when he disappeared in 1975.

A little over a year after he resigned in the wake of Watergate, Richard Nixon received a highly controversial pardon from President Gerald Ford. Some charged that the pardon was part of an agreement reached with Ford when Nixon left office; others, including the New York Times, simply called the move unwise and unjust. Ford, who announced the pardon on live television on Sept. 8, 1974, called the Nixon family's situation "an American tragedy in which we all have played a part." He added: "It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must." Ford, however, may have also written his own end, politically speaking. Many believe the Nixon pardon was the reason he lost the 1976 election to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

His Oval Office chair was barely warm when President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a controversial campaign promise on his first day in the White House by issuing a pardon to those who avoided serving in the Vietnam war by fleeing the U.S. or not registering. President Gerald Ford had earlier introduced a conditional amnesty, but Carter, hoping to heal the war's wounds, made no conditions. He did, however, exclude many groups of individuals from the pardon: deserters were not eligible, nor were soldiers who had received less-than-honorable discharges. Also not included were the civilians who had protested the war.

MARK FELT (aka Deep Throat) & EDWARD MILLER, 1981
These two men became the highest-ranking convicted criminals in the FBI. Felt, who revealed himself in 2005 as the whistleblower known as Deep Throat, and Miller were found guilty in 1978 of breaking into Vietnam protesters' homes and offices without warrants during the Nixon presidency. They had been trying to keep the FBI and Nixon informed of activities that they considered to be undertaken by hostile foreign powers and collaborators. Overstepping his own Justice Department, President Ronald Reagan pardoned the two men in the midst of their appeals, after three years of prosecution proceedings. Reagan argued that America was generous to the thousands of draft dodgers who were pardoned for refusing to serve their country in Vietnam. "We can be no less generous to two men who acted on high principle to bring an end to the terrorism that was threatening our nation."

Former Defense Secretary Weinberger and six other defendants were criticized for participating in the transfer of U.S. anti-tank missiles to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. Weinberger was charged with lying to the independent counsel after he resigned in 1987. But the pardon by President George H.W. Bush essentially halted the legal proceedings against Weinberger and his fellow defendants, as well as against Bush himself, who could have been called to testify as a former member of the Reagan administration. Independent council Lawrence Walsh, who had been investigating the affair, disapproved of the pardon, saying: "The Iran-Contra coverup... has now been completed."

The granddaughter of publishing titan William Randolph Hearst made headlines in 1974 when an urban guerilla group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) kidnapped her from her Berkeley, Calif., apartment. Two months later the 19-year-old was photographed robbing a San Francisco bank while brandishing an assault rifle — apparently she had taken up her captors' cause. At trial her defense lawyer focused not only on her abuse and the fact that the kidnappers forced her to take part in the robbery, but on the pervasive brainwashing by her attackers that caused her to sympathize with them. The defense didn't work and Hearst was convicted of bank robbery on March 20, 1976. She was imprisoned for almost two years before Jimmy Carter commuted her seven-year sentence freeing her from jail. But it was President Bill Clinton who granted her a pardon on the last day of his presidency, Jan. 20, 2001.

In 1983, financier Rich was indicted for evading more than $48 million in taxes, and charged with 51 counts of tax fraud, as well as running illegal oil deals with Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis. During his last week in office, President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich, who had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was residing in Switzerland. Clinton's eleventh-hour move, along with pardons of his half-brother, Roger, and former business partner Susan McDougal, outraged Republicans and Democrats alike. The Rich pardon sparked an investigation into whether it was bought by the hefty donations Rich's ex-wife, Denise, had given to the Clintons and Democrats. In the end, investigators didn't find enough evidence to indict Clinton.

UPDATE: The Official List of Pardons *
(List Provided by: University of Michigan Govt. Resources on the Web at http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/fedprs.html#pardons )

George Washington 16; John Adams 21; Thomas Jefferson 119; James Madison 196; James Monroe 419; John Quincy Adams 183; Andrew Jackson 386; Martin Van Buren 168; William H. Harrison 0; John Tyler 209; James K. Polk 268; Zachary Taylor 38; Millard Fillmore 170; Franklin Pierce 142; James Buchanan 150; Abraham Lincoln 343; Andrew Johnson 654; Ulysses S. Grant 1332; Rutherford B. Hayes 893; James Garfield 0; Chester Arthur 337; Grover Cleveland 1107 Benjamin Harrison 613; William McKinley 918; Theodore Roosevelt 981; William H. Taft 758; Woodrow Wilson 2480; Warren G. Harding 800; Calvin Coolidge 1545; Herbert Hoover 1385; Franklin D. Roosevelt 3687; Harry S. Truman 2044; Dwight D. Eisenhower 1157; John F. Kennedy 575; Lyndon B. Johnson 1187; Richard Nixon 926; Gerald Ford 409; Jimmy Carter 566; Ronald Reagan 406; George Bush 77; Bill Clinton 456; and currently (including 14 yesterday) George W. Bush 171.

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