« Profiling the top lock-up state in the top incarceration nation | Main | Intriguing victim rights' issues raised by 9/11 husband's anti-death penalty position »

May 13, 2012

ProPublica reveals more ugliness in federal clemency process

The Washington Post has published here the latest installment of ProPublica's on-going investigative reporting on the federal clemency system.  This lengthy piece is headlined " Clarence Aaron was denied commutation, but Bush team wasn’t told all the facts," and here are excepts:

Clarence Aaron seemed to be especially deserving of a federal commutation, an immediate release from prison granted by the president of the United States.  At 24, he was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal, even though it was his first criminal offense and he was not the buyer, seller or supplier of the drugs.  Of all those convicted in the case, Aaron received the stiffest sentence.

For those reasons, his case for early release was championed by lawmakers and civil rights activists, and taken up by the media, from PBS to Fox News.  And, ultimately, the prosecutor’s office and the sentencing judge supported an immediate commutation for Aaron.

Yet the George W. Bush administration, in its final year in office, never knew the full extent of their views, which were compiled in a confidential Justice Department review, and Aaron’s application was denied, according to an examination of the case by ProPublica based on interviews with participants and internal records.

That Aaron joined the long line of rejected applicants illuminates the extraordinary, secretive powers wielded by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the branch of the Justice Department that reviews commutation requests.  Records show that Ronald Rodgers, the current pardon attorney, left out critical information in recommending that the White House deny Aaron’s application.  In a confidential note to a White House lawyer, Rodgers failed to accurately convey the views of the prosecutor and judge and did not disclose that they had advocated for Aaron’s immediate commutation.

Kenneth Lee, the lawyer who shepherded Aaron’s case on behalf of the White House, was aghast when ProPublica provided him with original statements from the judge and prosecutor to compare with Rodgers’s summary.  Had he read the statements at the time, Lee said, he would have urged Bush to commute Aaron’s sentence....

The work of the pardon office has come under heightened scrutiny since December, when ProPublica and The Washington Post published stories showing that, from 2001 to 2008, white applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive presidential pardons as minorities.  The pardon office, which recommends applicants to the White House, is reviewing a new application from Aaron.  Without a commutation, he will die in prison....

The number of pardons awarded has declined sharply in the past 30 years, as have commutations.  Obama has rejected nearly 3,800 commutation requests from prisoners. He has approved one.  Bush commuted the sentences of 11 people, turning down nearly 7,500 applicants.  A former pardon office lawyer said some applicants have been turned down “en masse”with little, if any, review, a claim the Justice Department disputes....

Between 1980 and 2010, requests for commutations rose sharply, reflecting lengthier sentences and the elimination of paroles for federal inmates, while the number of successful applicants plummeted.  Under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both two-term presidents, one applicant in 100 was successful.  Under Bush, approvals fell to barely better than one in 1,000.

Related posts concerning ProPublica series and federal clemency practices:

May 13, 2012 at 10:17 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20168eb7b9fb9970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference ProPublica reveals more ugliness in federal clemency process:

Comments

Huh. I wonder what the Pardon Attorney wrote about Scooter Libby?

Posted by: C.E. | May 13, 2012 10:25:10 PM

There may be a problem with the pardon process. There may indeed be too few.

It is highly unfortunate that Pro Publica has taken up this subject, and that the Post has chosen to publish it.

Pro Publica is an extreme left wing propaganda outlet, devoid of any credibility. It is a Soros funded hate speech, outlet of Kissinger truth. It lies by omission. The posting of its utterances is similar to the posting of the speeches of David Duke. He is well educated and articulate. He does not say falsehoods. His hatred is so extreme that he picks only referenced facts that support his racist views. Both David Duke and Pro Publica may be dismissed for the same reason.

Again, release masses of criminals, what happens? Massive government make work jobs have to be initiated, to deal with the devastation they cause. That is the Commie agenda of both Pro Publica and the Washington Post.

Is it possible the Bush and Obama administrations learned from the experience of the Clinton administration? Do people remember the flak Clinton took for favoring big donors springing them from jail?

If you want serious review of clemency, do not complain. Just send $2200 to the Obama campaign.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2012 1:45:26 AM

Supremacy Claus, you have added incoherency to your irrationality. Irrationality isn't inherently a bad thing; incoherency is.

Posted by: Daniel | May 14, 2012 3:23:23 AM

Daniel: The burden is on me, as an advocate. Sometimes I assume knowledge and intelligence in the reader that are not there, and skip over explaining every step of the thinking. What is it you do not understand?

Do you know what a Kissinger Truth is? Kissinger testified as Secretary of State to the Senate. He droned on about details of State Department activity. He just failed to mention the secret carpet bombing of Cambodia. Later, when asked why, didn't he think that minor detail deserved mention? He replied, "They didn't ask." The failure to mention is a whopper, yet not technically a falsehood.

Pro Publica cannot be trusted to provide opposing facts because it is filled with hate.

Here is David Duke. There is no open falsehood. He lies by omission.

http://www.davidduke.com/

Quoting him on these pages when he discusses black crime would not be false, but ridiculous because of his extreme bias. Same goes with Pro Publica. The reason to not publish their output is that the reader would need insider knowledge in order to know the article is worthless, just as a Senator would have to know military secrets to know Kissinger is lying by omission.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2012 5:40:40 AM

C.E. --

Isn't it a little odd to be in favor of more clemency -- until it's actually granted?

Libby was the prototype of what, on this blog, is routinely put forth as the good clemency candidate: a first-time (at age 56), non-violent offender with a record of public service.

If others deserved clemency in addition to Libby, fine, make that case. But that is different from saying that Libby did not deserve it.

P.S. It makes no legal difference what the Pardon Attorney says. The Constitution places clemency power with the President alone. There is no mention of a Pardon Attorney. Nor is the pardon power subject to particular (or any) procedures. It is a plenary power in the Executive, not subject to regulation in any form by the other branches. The President may establish, or not establish, or if established disregard, any procedures he wishes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2012 9:05:21 AM

Bill,

I would say that Libby in particular deserved a date with the needle. Government officials who abuse the trust placed with them are completely undeserving of having the breaks go their way.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 14, 2012 9:53:26 AM

Bill is right. This is all the president's to handle as he wishes. Having said that, if the process now in place is denying the president from knowing about good cases, that is a real problem. He knew about Libby because Cheney mentioned it to him every day. But now that the problem of the OPA is out in full display, presidents shouldn't hide behind that any longer.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | May 14, 2012 11:31:18 AM

Bill.

I agree. The problem is that presidents are hiding behind government employees in the same way that prosecutors hide behind the grand jury and that scared little boys hide behind their momma skirt.

If the President has all the responsibility then he deserves both the censure and the praise. As it stands now it is heads I win tails you lose.

"Had he read the statements at the time, Lee said, he would have urged Bush to commute Aaron’s sentence...."

Woulda coulda shoulda. Easy for him to say that now, now that he's off the hot seat and his opinion has no practical affect.

Posted by: Daniel | May 14, 2012 2:45:24 PM

i agree. the problem SC is that if only HALF of what they say is true and it should not take more a a few days to walk in and seize the office and examine EVERY DOCUMET in the offfice if is or is not true. If true then the whole office should be disbanded and the lawyers involved disbarred and the GS employess fired.

plus i think a "LIE of OMISSION" is still a LIE! if anything it's a BIGGER one! after all doesn't the govt give criminals who CONFESS and take thier lumps a break as apposed to those who lie and fight it to the very end?

Posted by: rodsmith | May 14, 2012 5:22:14 PM

"Libby was the prototype of what, on this blog, is routinely put forth as the good clemency candidate: a first-time (at age 56), non-violent offender with a record of public service..."

...who after being convicted of obstruction and perjury in relation to a high-level investigation with national security implications spent all of 85 days in prison. That's not quite the "prototypical" clemency candidate that naturally comes to mind when one thinks of someone who's suffered a terribly unjust sentence.

I happen to think Libby's punishment, as commuted, was reasonable. But it's preposterous to think he was a prime candidate for this kind of relief.

Posted by: Michael Drake | May 14, 2012 5:23:41 PM

Michael Drake --

"I happen to think Libby's punishment, as commuted, was reasonable."

Then we have little or no substantive disagreement.

"But it's preposterous to think he was a prime candidate for this kind of relief."

I didn't say he was a prime candidate. I said he was a good candidate and he was, given the two factors most frequently mentioned here as qualifiers for clemency, to wit, first offender and non-violent offense.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2012 5:51:08 PM

For the record, I do not think Libby actually spent even a day in prison. Even more important for the record, I hope Bill Otis and perhaps others recall that in my written testimony to Congress in a hearing about the Libby commutation, I urged "efforts to revive and restore this power to its historically important and respected status." (Linked here: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/July2007/Berman070711.pdf)

And the problem, Bill, exposed by this article is that the OPA is undermine the efforts by clemency applicants to "make the case" through normal channels. Libby had your help via the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and the VP Cheney's help via his unique access to Prez Bush. Here is hoping that the ProPublica report may help "make the case" now for Clarence Aaron, but one now cannot help but wonders how many of the 10,000+ applicants turned down in recent years were not even able to "make the case" for commutation effectively because of various anti-grant biases within the OPA.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 14, 2012 6:07:19 PM

'The Constitution places clemency power with the President alone.'
still doesn't mean that bush didn't make an extremely poor choice using it to help such an undeserving, unrepentant lying public servant

Posted by: Grandpa's glasses | May 14, 2012 8:16:52 PM

Doug --

Both when I was at DOJ and at the White House, it was my view that the job of staffers is to lay all the facts before the President (albeit in necessarily condensed form). The article strongly suggests that was not done. If that is correct, those responsible did not well serve either the President or the truth.

I always thought the job was easy: Tell it like it is. Don't emphasize the parts that favor your view, and don't de-emphasize the parts that call it into question. The staff doesn't decide. The President decides.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2012 10:03:46 PM

Isn't it time to bar Supremacy clause from the comments for sheer ignorance and know nothing status. He is an incredibly unsophisticated commentator who is a stranger to nuance, proportionality, or, frankly, humanity. What sad event occurred in his life to cause his sheer barbarity and wish for cruelty to be imposed on those less fortunate than he? Unfortunately, our system is not sufficiently resistant to the whims of grandstanders, rubes, and others with no concept of diminishing returns to scale from punishment or decency. It is ironic that "The Land of The Free" is more of a police state than any other Western industrialized country. Go figure.

Posted by: Alex | May 14, 2012 10:41:20 PM

Alex: If you are not a lawyer, I respect your view. Ignore my pro public safety biased comments, to prevent getting upset. If you ever find a mistake of fact, point it out. I will thank you and apologize sincerely. Your demand for censorship is shared by all the feminist lawyers reading this blog, as well as by their male running dogs.

But at least once a week, you will read a new concept you have never heard before. I think that has value. Many are pro-defense. For example, take a list of 100 cognitive biases, and use them as a checklist to demand a dismissal of charges or a mistrial, since they each violate Fifth Amendment Due Process right to a fair hearing. Have you ever heard that before? Never been done, but obvious if high school education had not been eliminated by law school indoctrination into supernatural core doctrines. So if logic is on the side of the defense I have not hesitated to post the concept. I want fairness credit for the many pro-defense original concepts I have contributed.

As to those less fortunate, I have advocated the arrest, one hour's fair trial and summary execution of the 15,000 members of the lawyer hierarchy. Perhaps, they are less fortunate than I am, but they are more powerful. They have fully infiltrated and make 99% of the policy decisions of our government. These should be purged as soon and as completely as possible to save our civilization. They are internal traitors and in insurrection against the constitution. They are self immunized the way the lawyer founded and run KKK was self-immunized to lynch and take the assets of well to do black people in open public hangings with postcards of the hangings sent to friends, as if from a beach resort. If they oppress the public, and plunder it, that goes double for the ordinary lawyer, and triple for the ordinary judge. The lawyer profession will itself bloom, along with all others and the economy, after the traitors are eradicated.

If you are a lawyer, I want you to utter the V word. You can't because your living comes from the criminal, and the crime victim may rot in your sick upside down, Twilight Zone world.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2012 11:29:20 PM

I don't begrudge Scooter Libby his commutation--in fact I agreed with President Bush on that one. The problem is that the exact reasons cited by President Bush, including that Libby's life and career were irrevocably altered by the mere fact of a felony conviction and that the sentence was excessive, applied equally to thousands, if not tens of thousands of defendants punished as part of the war on drugs, the crusade against child pornography, misguided gun possession prosecutions, and draconian penalties for illegal re-entrants. But few to none of those prisoners will ever get the same consideration, because they are not friends of the president.

While the power to pardon is the president's alone, as an elected official, it's not unreasonable to expect him to wield that power in ways that at the very least right wrongs and recognize redemption.

Posted by: C.E. | May 15, 2012 12:02:06 AM

"I didn't say he was a prime candidate."

C'mon — you said he was a "prototype" of "the good clemency candidate."

And of course we have a substantive disagreement, namely, in that I observed why Libby wasn't a good candidate —points that you don't even try to rebut.

Aside from which, Doug is right — Libby didn't spend a day in prison. (My bad.) So what do you think: zero days in prison for obstruction and perjury in a high-level criminal investigation with national security implications — is that a reasonable sentence?

Posted by: Michael Drake | May 15, 2012 12:34:46 PM

Michael Drake --

"And of course we have a substantive disagreement, namely, in that I observed why Libby wasn't a good candidate — points that you don't even try to rebut...Aside from which, Doug is right — Libby didn't spend a day in prison. (My bad.) So what do you think: zero days in prison for obstruction and perjury in a high-level criminal investigation with national security implications — is that a reasonable sentence?"

Why are you arguing with yourself? On Monday you said, "I happen to think Libby's punishment, as commuted, was reasonable." His punishment as commuted, was, as you now correctly state, zero days in prison (plus a $250,000 fine and probation).

When you decide whether you prefer your position yesterday to the one you take today, please get back to me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2012 4:17:46 PM

Bill, my position yesterday was rather clearly premised on a mistake about how much time Libby spent actually spent in prison. You can't not have realized that. When you decide to be an intellectually honest interlocutor, get back to me.

Posted by: Michael Drake | May 15, 2012 10:08:51 PM

Michael Drake --

You did make a mistake in your first entry, but your conclusion -- that Libby's sentence was reasonable -- did not appear to me to be premised on it. Nor, for that matter, was there any reason for it to have been. Eight-five days for a perjury conviction just isn't that much in absolute terms, and still less when measured against the original sentence of two and a-half years.

And don't hand me this crap about honesty, Michael. I have a long, public record in court that I'll be happy to match against yours or anyone's. Wanna?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 8:57:48 AM

Res ipsa loquitur, Bill.

And if 85 days isn't "just isn't that much in absolute terms, and still less when measured against the original sentence of two and a-half years," zero days was all the more unreasonably lenient, no?

Posted by: Michael Drake | May 16, 2012 10:01:07 AM

Michael Drake --

"...zero days was all the more unreasonably lenient, no?"

I could scarcely ask for better proof that you are, in fact, arguing with yourself. Your position on Monday was that 85 days' imprisonment was "reasonable," Michael Drake | May 14, 2012 5:23:41 PM.

Now you say that zero days was "all the more unreasonably lenient." Of course, zero days can hardly be "more unreasonably lenient" than 85 days unless 85 days was unreasonable to begin with.

So now the 85 days was unreasonable, but on Monday it was reasonable.

Far out.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2012 3:03:45 PM

"I could scarcely ask for better proof that you are, in fact, arguing with yourself."

I could scarcely ask for better proof that you are just being bloody-minded. I was asking what you thought. That would mean posing the question in terms of your assumptions (85 days "just isn't that much"), not mine (85 days is reasonable).

Last word's yours if you want it.

Posted by: Michael Drake | May 16, 2012 11:27:15 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB