14 July 2015

What Motivates Ink in President’s Pardon Pen

th-2President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners yesterday, which made the news in large part because many news organizations are reporting that Obama has now commuted the sentences of “more prisoners than the past four presidents combined.”

Pardon us, while we let out a collective yawn….

It’s not that we find the subject matter boring, it’s just that the numbers are rather meaningless when measured within the context of the nation’s criminal justice system. A criminal justice system that currently imprisons more than one million non-violent offenders. We’re tempted at this point to posit about what many would consider an especially draconian criminal justice system, but we’re going to save that topic for another blog.

For now we are going to look at executive clemency in general, because it struck us that the President by dint of his office has vast power to invoke mercy. Yet, a quick search of the website run by U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, leads us to believe that our presidents are not all that merciful. The list of pardons granted by the past four presidents also makes us wonder whether getting a pardon might in many instances be a case of who the perpetrator might know, rather than a case of clemency for mercy’s sake.

President George H.W. Bush pardoned only 74 criminals during his one-term presidency, making him the least merciful president of the past 100 years. His most famous (or infamous) use of executive clemency was his pardon of six Reagan Administration officials who were convicted of crimes relating to that administration’s Iran-Contra Scandal. The pardons effectively put an end to further investigation of the scandal, including the President’s possible role in the cover up while serving as President Reagan’s VP.

Along with a soft-spot for former co-workers, the elder Bush seems to have liked bankers and postmen, as 10 pardons were granted for bank embezzlement, fraud and other banking related crimes, and another 10 were granted for U.S. Postal Service crimes, most committed by Postal workers themselves. Other interesting crimes for which perpetrators received the presidential pardon included draft dodging, moonshining, illegal gambling, bribery and income tax evasion.

Four of the presidential pardons were for misdemeanors, which makes us wonder why the most powerful person in the land would waste presidential ink and time on something so relatively inconsequential.

President William J. Clinton, with 396 pardons during his two terms, makes him the most merciful among our last four presidents. And, like his predecessor, Clinton pardoned a few people with whom he had close ties, including his half-brother Roger (drug dealing), and former business partners and fund raisers (contempt of court and embezzlement). And like the Elder Bush, Clinton seems to have had a soft spot for bankers and U.S. Postal Officials, with over 30 bankers receiving pardons, and at least 20 U.S. Postal Service employees receiving pardons (what’s up with all the Postmen who steal and destroy mail–what, they know they’re going to get pardoned?).

th-5Other crimes popular with Clinton’s pardon signature were income tax evasion, draft dodging and/or being absent without leave, and narcotics possession and trafficking, the latter being the most pardoned offence during Clinton’s presidency. Clinton also seems to have had soft spot for those guilty of tampering with automobile odometers, but perhaps the most interesting pardon was one granted for the theft of four pounds of butter.

President George “The W” Bush issued 189 pardons during his two terms in office, making the ink in his pardon pen about as dry as his dad’s. As with other presidents, bankers seem to get special dispensation. W only pardoned about five postal officials, and only gave about eight pardons for tax evasion, but showed his soft spot to those convicted of moonshining and other alcohol crimes (nine pardons), and those of convicted of firearms violations (nine pardons).

While President Barak Obama has started to get generous with the commutations, to date he has only issued 64 pardons, putting him on track to be the least merciful president pardon-wise in recent decades. While Barak has signed just three pardons for bankers, more than 25 percent of the ink in his pardon pen has been used for those convicted of narcotics crimes. Perhaps the most interesting of the President’s pardons to date, is one granted to a man who aided in the possession and sale of an illegal alligator hide.

Again, we question the use of the President’s ink and time, but we’re not in a position of power, so pardon us for wondering what motives may have influenced any of the above mentioned pardons. Oh, and please pardon the pun, as well.



M.J. Moye