Friday, February 29, 2008

Context: Buckley and Frustration With the Pardon Process

In December of 1976, William F. Buckley, Jr. angrily expressed his concerns over the pardon process noting, "Chile may be showing greater concern for its political prisoners than the United States." The anxiety stemmed from the fact that Buckley wanted to see Howard Hunt's two and a half to eight-year prison sentence commuted. Harvard Professor James Q. Wilson had noted that anyone else with Hunt's record would have probably been given a 30-day suspended sentence. But Judge John Sirica was handing out "extraordinary prison terms" in order to "put special pressure on his prisoners to cooperate with the prosecution." Buckley wrote:
In the office of the Attorney General of the United States is someone called the Pardon Attorney. His job is to prepare recommendations for the President of the United States. Hunt's attorney approached the Pardon Attorney in October, 1975, and asked how long it would require to weigh the evidence, in the case of Hunt, in order to prepare a recommendation for the president. The answer: "Three or four months." The papers were completed instantly, and recommendations for leniency filed, including copies of public statements made by such as Eric Sevareid, James J. Kilpatrick and Howard K. Smith. Eight months went by. [I] telephoned the Pardon Attorney and asked if he could account for the extraordinary delay. Were political considerations standing in the way of a commutation of sentence? He replied that I would have to draw my on conclusions.
In July of 1976, Buckley asked the Attorney General the same question. One month later, the Attorney General replied that the Pardon Attorney expected a "last report" that was very "necessary" to arrive "shortly." The December editorial noted that it was "difficult" to believe the Attorney General. Instead, Buckley concluded:
What obviously the whole gang did not want is to pardon Hunt during an election campaign, on the grounds that doing so would revive talk about the pardon of Richard Nixon ... But the election was weeks ago. Hunt rots in jail, for no purpose, and there is no explanation for it other than the sadistic neglect of uncommunicative bureaucrats who give speeches about justice and apparently think nothing of taking more than one year to process a simple application for justice and for mercy.
Buckley taunted the Pardon Attorney to "develop the guts" to say that Hunt should not be let out of jail if that, in fact, was his opinion. The editorial ended by wondering if Hunt would have to wait for a Democratic President to "exercise rudimentary clemency for a minor participant" who had been "redundantly punished."

NOTE: At the time of the writing of the editorial, Hunt had served 30 months of his sentence. The following month, it was decided that he could be paroled if he took care of a $10,000 fine. Two months later, he was released. In October of 1981, at age 63, Hunt applied once again for a presidential pardon and failed. He died last year.

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