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December 18, 2012

"Head of Pardons Office Withheld Facts From White House in Key Case"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article by Dafna Linzer of ProPublica reporting on a notable report emerging from within the Justice Department concerning a notable controversy over a notable clemency case. Here is how the piece starts:

The head of the Justice Department's pardons office failed to accurately convey key information to the Bush White House regarding a federal inmate's plea for early release, the department's inspector general concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In overseeing the case of Clarence Aaron, the report found that Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."

In a measure of the seriousness of the evidence against Rodgers, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz referred his findings to the deputy attorney general for "a determination as to whether administrative action is appropriate."

Rodgers's advice to the president, the inspector general concluded, "was colored by his concern ... that the White House might grant Aaron clemency presently and his desire that this not happen." The report includes excerpts of emails Rodgers sent to another Justice Department official expressing hope that Aaron's request be denied.

"The details that emerge from this report about the way the Justice Department handled my client's case shock me," said Aaron's attorney, Margaret Love. "Justice is long overdue for Clarence Aaron, and I hope the president will take immediate action to free him."

The pardons office has come under increased scrutiny in the last year since ProPublica and The Washington Post began reporting on race disparity in the selection of pardon recipients and the handling of the Aaron case. ProPublica's study showed that white applicants have been nearly four times as likely as minorities to be pardoned. Aaron is African American....

Rodgers, a career civil servant and former military judge, took over the pardons office in 2008. Despite calls for his resignation, he has remained in office. Nearly all pardon recipients are preselected by Rodgers and he personally reviews each application from federal inmates seeking early release. Under his leadership, denial recommendations have soared while pardons have been rarely granted.

Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had full confidence in Rodgers. Hornbuckle declined to reiterate that support Tuesday. He said Holder's deputy, James Cole, was reviewing the inspector general's findings and that "further comment would not be appropriate." The Justice Department refused requests for interviews with Cole or Rodgers.

The White House relies almost exclusively on Rodgers in deciding whom the president will forgive or release from prison. Asked whether the president also has confidence in Rodgers's advice, the White House declined to comment.

Over at his Pardon Power blog, PS Ruckman has provided the full DOJ Inspector General report at this link and he provides highlights from the report in this post titled "SHOCK! O.I.G. Blasts U.S. Pardon Attorney."   The folks at FAMM also have this new press release in response to this report, which includes these passages:

FAMM President Julie Stewart today said she felt “maddened but validated” by a report confirming serious misconduct by the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) in its handling of the clemency request of federal prisoner Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender serving life without parole....

Says Stewart, "The report confirms what thousands of clemency denials imply: the Office of the Pardon Attorney has a 'just say no' attitude when it comes to clemency requests, no matter how deserving the prisoner or how unjust the sentence.  That kind of culture doesn’t serve the interests of justice, the president, or the public.  Prisoners grow, change, and deserve second chances.  But they’ll never get them unless the president reforms the pardon attorney’s office and ensures that everyone gets a fair shake."

December 18, 2012 at 09:30 PM | Permalink


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Professor Berman:

I hope you address each incoming law class by stating this undeniable fact:

"Forget whatever you think you know about the US Constitution based on history and simple deductive logic because it is ONLY what nine ex-AUSDAs dressed in black pajamas claim for the immediate politically expedient moment. As such, it is a living, changing document."

The DOJ Pardon Attorney seriously abrogated his responsibilites under the first amendment right (or is it a privilege) to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Posted by: albeed | Dec 18, 2012 11:05:02 PM

good and nice details i really appreciated :)

Posted by: Kiefer | Dec 19, 2012 2:43:07 AM

I trust that your blog will keep us informed as to developments in this matter.

Posted by: alan chaset | Dec 19, 2012 9:13:33 AM

This is nice for Aaron. Not so much help for all of those petitioners who don't have the resources or the wisdom to hire Margaret Love (a LONGtime practitioner in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, really a former de facto Pardon Attorney) to represent them.

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Dec 19, 2012 12:22:49 PM

sounds to me like it's long past time some family member or friend caught this asswhipe and fragged his ass.

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 19, 2012 3:20:35 PM

This is disgraceful.

Posted by: Brian G. | Dec 19, 2012 3:55:50 PM

This has been standard operating procedure in the prosecutor's office for years. It is time to make this a constitutional power that the President can exercise without the help of life time bureaucrats.

Posted by: beth | Dec 19, 2012 5:20:39 PM

beth --

The President can, this very day, exercise his clemency power without input from DOJ. The White House gets that input only because it wants it, and doesn't have the personnel to review all the pardon requests that get sent in. But in any event, pardon recommendations are already reviewed in White House Counsel's Office after they get sent over from Main Justice. I know. I worked in both places.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2012 6:17:44 PM

That's true Bill, I really shouldn't have implied that the President couldn't do it on his own. It is his power and his alone. There is just a bit of timidity in the White House which is why this is sop.

Posted by: beth | Dec 19, 2012 6:40:34 PM

What we need more is a law that Requires the President to look at and sign off on each pardon request. He/She can mark it yes or now and has to state his/her reason.

That would get rid of a lot of the backroom deals.

Nobody reviews shit! You write it. You mail it. President has 90days to read and respond. Failure to do so within the 90 days time line pardon is automatically approved.

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 20, 2012 7:06:49 PM

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