Monday, April 7, 2008

Context: Carter v. Clinton, Pot v. Kettle

Carol Felsenthal, who is writing a book about Bill Clinton in the post-Clinton era, has written an editorial about the strained relationship between Clinton and fellow former president Jimmy Carter. Along the way she notes:

... Jimmy Carter repaid Bill Clinton and then some by going his own way on foreign affairs in the 1990s; by publicly rebuking Clinton's morals when he was at his nadir; after Monica, after the Marc Rich pardon; in that schoolmarmish manner that only Carter can muster ...

Felsenthal's book will be out in May, so she is concerned that she does not "step on" her own material. Not having the same concerns, I thought I would step a few places I suspect she will not be stepping at all:

In a 2001 speech at Georgia Southwestern State University, Carter called Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich a “disgraceful” and “serious mistake.” Carter also told his audience that, as President of the United States, he “never” pardoned anyone without a “complete investigation" by the Justice Department and a recommendation in favor of clemency. Carter was also critical of the fact that so many of the Clinton’s pardons were granted late in the term. On the same day, Hamilton Jordan, the White House chief of staff during the Carter administration, wrote an editorial which appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Jordan rebuked Clinton for ignoring “certain procedures” that had been “honored and passed along from president to president.” He found it “extremely curious” that Clinton did not seek the “advice and perspective” of prosecuting attorneys in the Marc Rich case and suggested the “ethical atmosphere” of the Clinton White House had “sunk” to an “incredible” level where pardons were just another “perk of office.”

One would never have guessed from the speech and the editorial that Jimmy Carter had granted more individual pardons in the last year of his own administration than he had in any of the previous three years. Nor would one have guessed that Carter had granted his own controversial, late-term pardon to a wealthy individual, with “inside” connections, and in complete opposition to the clearly expressed wishes of officials in the Department of Justice. But that is exactly what happened.

In 1977, Frederic B., E. Bronson, and six others were indicted on 29 counts in a bribery scheme that grossed more than $40 million in profits for Ingram Corporation. The bribes were directed at members of the Metropolitan Sanitary District, a municipal corporation governed by an elected board of trustees, with primary responsibility for sewage disposal in Chicago and surrounding areas. After nine weeks of testimony from more than 50 prosecution witnesses and the presentation of the defense, five of the eight defendants, including 46-year-old Frederic B. Ingram, were convicted. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon B. Nash was officially recognized by the Justice Department for his outstanding work on the case.

Judge John F. Grady concluded Frederic and his co-defendants were “unmitigated by any moral principles whatsoever” and, on December 14, sentenced him to four years in federal prison. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments on the case in September of 1978 and issued a ruling the following March. As a result, Ingram did not actually begin serving his prison sentence until January 1, 1980. But before Frederic Ingram even served one of his four years, President Jimmy Carter exercised the pardon power and commuted the sentence to a mere 18 months. Carter signed the commutation warrant for Ingram on December 23, 1980, in the final days of his presidency.

A New York Times headline said Carter’s commutation stirred “anger.” A Washington Post editorial noted Carter’s late-term commutation contributed to a “near sonic boom in protests.” Thomas P. Sullivan, the United States attorney whose Chicago office prosecuted the case, would later say that he was “completely unaware” that Carter was “seriously considering” Ingram’s request for clemency. Sullivan called the commutation an “outrage” and reported that his office had filed no less than five objections to the application. The Times reported that the Justice Department’s Parole Commission had also recommended that Ingram serve his full sentence. Yet, as prominent as Carter’s decision was, at the time, it seemed to be all but forgotten when he and his former chief of staff publicly rebuked Bill Clinton in 2001.

See Felsenthal's editorial here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But wait, there's more:

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