Technically, President George W. Bush did not pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Instead, he was given clemency and had his sentence commuted, or reduced. When a person is pardoned, it erases all penalties or “disabilities from the federal or military offense.” This could mean a prison term, but it also means the person regains their right to vote, run for office, and own a firearm. Clemency is similar to a pardon, because it lessens the penalty of the crime, but the crime itself is not forgiven. In both of these cases, the person is still considered guilty of the crime they committed. To be considered, they would have to be given amnesty, which officially erases all records of their conviction.
In the case of Scooter Libby, his prison sentence has been reduced, but he is still considered guilty of the felonies. This is not the first time that a president has faced public criticism for granting someone clemency or pardons. Presidential pardons have been controversial from the start.
The first pardon ever issued was considered controversial. George Washington pardoned everyone who participated in an armed resistance against a high tax on alcohol. After martial law was declared and a militia formed, twenty men were rounded up and charged with treason. Few of the men actually went to trial and only two were convicted treason, which should have meant death, before Virginia Governor Henry Lee, on Washington’s behalf, pardoned anyone who had participated.
Here are a few more of the more controversial pardons in presidential history:
President Lincoln issued two pardons solely based on the man’s character. The first was to Arthur O’Bryan. O’Bryan was convicted of attempted bestiality (sexual relations between a human and an animal). Lincoln pardoned O’Bryan because he felt that the man’s character was “otherwise reputable.” Similar circumstances surrounded Lincoln’s pardon of John Lawson. Lawson was convicted of counterfeiting. However, Lincoln appreciated Lawson’s “reputation for honesty” and decided to grant him a full and unconditional pardon.
James Brown was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to death. He was caught in the act of sucking the blood out of a sailor with the body of another sailor that had been killed in a similar manner near by. Johnson commuted his sentence to life in prison. Brown ended up killing two more people while in prison.
In 1865, eight individuals were arrested and tried for conspiring to murder Lincoln. All were found guilty. Four of the defendants–Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold–received the death penalty and were hanged on July 7, 1865. The other four–Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Edmund Spangler, and Samuel Arnold–were sentenced with life in prison. However, they ended up spending less than four years of their sentence. Mudd, Spangler, and Arnold received a full pardon by Andrew Johnson on February 8, 1869. O’Lauglen did not receive a pardon because he had died of yellow fever. The pardon came about a month before Ulysses S. Grant was due to take office.
Johnson also granted unconditional amnesty to all Confederate shoulders on December 25, 1868. Conditional amnesties had already been issued by Abraham Lincoln and Johnson.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ira Gladding had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for mail robbery. He was given a pardon by Ulysses S. Grant. On the same day that Gladding was released, he passed a bad check. He continued to pass several more forged checks until he was eventually arrested. Gladding reportedly explained that the crimes were “irresistible impulses” beyond his control.
On the eve of the presidential election, police Lieutenant Michael Mullen arrested and held over one hundred African-Americans. No charges were ever brought against any of the men and they were released that same day, but not until after all the polls had closed. Mullen was charged with election fraud and sentenced to one year in jail. However, he was granted a pardon by Grover Cleveland after only eight months, partially because Cleveland had been given a petition for his release that included signatures from many “first class citizens.” Two weeks later, it was revealed that at least one-and possibly more–of the signatures on the petition had been forged.
William Howard Taft
In 1908, Charles W. Morse was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in a federal penitentiary for the “misapplication of bank funds to serve his own ends and falsification of books and reports.” In other words, he was convicted of money laundering and fraud. He then managed to hid his money (to make it look like he was broke) and faked an illness in order to obtain a pardon from President Taft. Convinced that Morse was dying, Taft granted it. Morse quickly recovered and began working to regain his millions. He later was found to be milking the U.S. government in various ship-building deals during World War I and was forced to pay over eleven million dollars in restitution.
On October 31, 1950, Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo entered the Blair House with the intention of killing President Harry Truman. Truman had been residing there while the White House was being renovated. The attack failed, but killed a White House police officer and Torresola. Collazo was tried and sentenced to death. However, Truman commuted his sentence to life. Interestingly, Collazo received a full pardon from President Jimmy Carter in 1979, after serving twenty-nine years in jail.
Jimmy Hoffa was granted a pardon by Richard Nixon on December 23, 1971, as long as he agreed not to “engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization” for about ten years. Once released, Hoffa became a supporter for Nixon’s re-election bid. Angelo De Carlo, who was described by the FBI as a “methodical gangland executioner,” was sentenced to twelve years in prison for extortion. However, Nixon commuted his sentence after only nineteen months. De Carlo later admitted that he had paid Frank Sinatra to obtain the pardon for him. Although this was never proven, Sen. Henry Jackson, chair of the Permanent Committee on Investigations, did state that the pardon was obtained because it “bypassed the normal procedures and safeguards.”
One of the most highly controversial pardons ever was when Gerald Ford pardoned his presidential predecessor, Richard Nixon. Ford would later comment that he did it less for Nixon and more for the American people, as he felt that a pardon was the only way for the nation to move on after the Watergate scandal. Still, many theorize that this action caused Ford to lose the 1976 election.
Jimmy Carter fulfilled a campaign promise when he offered amnesty to anyone who fled the United States or failed to register in an attempt to avoid the Vietnam Draft. He hoped that by providing this unconditional amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, he would help heal the nation’s wounds. However, he did not offer amnesty to deserters or civilians who had protested the war.
Peter Yarrow, best known for his participation in the group Peter, Paul and Mary and as co-writer of the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” pled guilty to “taking immoral and improper liberties” with two minors who had come to his hotel room looking for an autograph. Apparently, Yarrow had answered the door nude and made sexual advances towards two sisters–one 14-years-old and the other 17-years-old. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison, but was pardoned by Carter after serving only three months.
G. Gordon Liddy was convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping for his role in Watergate. He only served four and a half years of a twenty-year sentence before his sentence was commuted by Carter.
New York Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner admitted that he was guilty of making illegal contributions to President Nixon’s re-election campaign in order to obtain a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan. Former Louisiana agriculture commissioner Gilbert L. Dozier was convicted of demanding over $300,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for permits. His sentence was commuted by Reagan over the objections of the sentencing judge and the U.S. attorney in charge of his case.
Mark Felt and Edward Miller were convicted of breaking into Vietnam protesters’ homes and offices without warrants during Nixon’s Presidency. These two former FBI agents were in the midst of appeals when they were pardon by Regan. Reagan justified the pardons by stating that if America could pardon draft dodgers who refused to serve their country, then it should also pardon those who had served their country.
George H. W. Bush
Probably the most controversial pardons that the first President Bush issued were for six individuals that had been involved in the Iran-Contra affair: Caspar W. Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Duane R. Clarridge, Alan D. Fiers, Clair George, and Robert C. McFarlane. The Iran-Contra affair occurred when Bush was vice-president for Reagan. Essentially, it was revealed that members of the executive branch were involved in selling arms to Iran and then using the profits to fund the Contras, a rebel force fighting in Nicaragua. The men were facing charges that included perjury, withholding information from congress, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. The pardons halted legal proceedings against them and has kept the Iran-Contra affair shrouded in mystery to this day.
Armand Hammer was convicted of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. He was granted a pardon by Bush after contributing $100,000 to the Republican Party and $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural Committee.
Orland Bosch has been described as “an unrepentant terrorist” by former Dick Thornburgh (Attorney General from 1988-1991). Bosch has been suspected as a participant in dozens of bombings, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. The pardon came about after it was requested by Jeb Bush, despite strong objections from the defense department because they felt Bosch was “one of the most deadly terrorists working.” The pardon was celebrated by many individuals in Florida, the same state where Jeb would later become governor. Despite numerous extradition requests from other countries, Bosch remains a free man and still resides in the United States.
Aslam Adam was a Pakistani drug trafficker who was sentenced to fifty-five years in prison. He had been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute $1 million worth of heroin, importation of heroin, and use of mail in committing felony. Bush has never explained or justified why he commuted Adam’s sentence just two days before leaving office. As a result, Adam only served eight years of his sentence.
A complete list of pardons granted by President George H. W. Bush can be found on the Justice Department’s website: http://www.usdoj.gov/pardon/bushgrants.htm.
Bill Clinton’s most controversial pardons occurred just hours before he was due to leave office. On January 20, 2001, Clinton pardoned over 140 individuals. Many of these pardons were so controversial that Clinton released a statement explaining his actions February 21, 2001. In the statement, Clinton attempts to justify his actions by comparing the number of pardons and sentence commutations he made to that of other presidents. What he does not state is that over half of all the pardons issued by Clinton occurred in January 2001. According to the Justice Department, 258 of the 459 pardons were issued in 2001. Another 71 were granted between November 21 and December 22, 2000. This is three to ten times more than any other years that he had issued pardons (not to mention the four years that he did not grant any pardons at all). In comparison, Carter issued 74 pardons during his last month, Reagan issued 32, and Bush issued 36. Speculation has arisen over the reasoning for some of these pardons. Just a few examples:
In 1983, Marc 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. Rich never faced trial because he fled to Switzerland during his prosecution. Speculation arose that this pardon was purchased by donations given to both the Clintons and Democratic Party, but investigators were unable to find enough evidence to indict Clinton. However, records show that Denise Rich, Marc Rich’s ex-wife, donated as much as $450,000 to the Clinton library and visited the White House the night before the pardon was granted.
Interestingly, the New York Times reported in February 2001 that after the pardon was granted, Lewis “Scooter Libby,” who was Rich’s former lawyer, called Rich to congratulate him on January 22, 2001. In Clinton’s letter explaining the pardons, he states that Libby’s recommendation as one of the reasons the pardon was granted.
Pincus Green, Marc Rich’s partner, was also granted a pardon. He had fled the U.S. with Marc Rich after being charged of tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran.
Roger Clinton, Bill Clinton’s half-brother, was granted a pardon for his conviction of cocaine possession. While this does reek of nepotism, it should be made clear that Roger Clinton had served his full sentence and the pardon merely restored rights denied him as a convicted felon.
Carlos Vignali, convicted of drug trafficking, and Glenn Braswell, convicted of mail fraud and perjury, were both pardoned after Hillary Clinton’s brother, Hugh Rodham, lobbied for them. It was later reported that Rodham was paid $400,000 for this action. When this fact was made public, Rodham stated that he would return the money.
This is not the first time that one of Hillary’s brothers were paid to lobby for presidential pardons. In March 2000, Clinton pardoned Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory, who had been convicted of bank fraud. The Gregorys had served their time, but were unable to do business in some states because of their conviction. In October 2006, a group called Judicial Watch filed a request that this pardon be investigated because Tony Rodham, who had lobbied on the Gregory’s behalf, had received a $107,000 “loan” (which had never been repaid) for his actions.
Susan McDougal, Clinton’s former business partner during the infamous Whitewater deal, was granted a full pardon for her 1996 convictions of mail fraud, aiding and abetting in misapplication of Small Business Investment Corporation funds, aiding and abetting in making false entries, and aiding and abetting in making false statements.
The last minute pardons were investigated by
A full list of pardons granted by President Clinton can be found on the Justice Department’s website: http://www.usdoj.gov/pardon/clintonpardon_grants.htm.
A list of Presidential Pardons and Clemency actions by administration can also be found on the Justice Department’s website: http://www.usdoj.gov/pardon/actions_administration.htm
“Examples of Controversial Pardons by Previous Presidents”