Thursday, January 21, 2010

White House Aide Lies to CBS News Re Pardons

The CBS Political Hotsheet (here) notes President Obama has yet to grant a single pardon or commutation of sentence. But it also notes:
A White House aide says first year presidents are inundated with pardon petitions and usually don't grant any until after "an extensive review process is conducted at the Justice Department." George W. Bush granted no executive clemency his first year either, except for turkeys.
Aside from the fact that Mr. Obama promised more than "business as usual" and his supporters rarely consider Bush a benchmark for anything important, there are several things wrong with the "aide"s analysis.

First, President Obama has gone 366 days without granting a single pardon or commutation of sentence. The average "extensive review" - for every administration since George Washington - has resulted in a first pardon or commutation in only 122 days. If George Washington is removed the analysis, the number falls to a mere 80 days. Regardless, the Obama administration is distinct for its presence among the very slowest acting administrations ever.

Second, only four presidents have been slower than Mr. Obama: George Washington, John Adams, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. As even a casual glance at this chart reveals, these presidents are far from "the norm." They are freakish statistical outliers. The pool of impeached presidents is only slightly smaller.

But, it gets worse. The "aide" suggested "first year presidents are inundated with pardon petitions" - which is patently false for four out of the five statistical outliers, including Obama. Only Bill Clinton experienced anything like an "inundation" of clemency applications in his first year. Safe to say, anyone even moderately familiar with aggregate data on clemency will be aware of the fact that, if anything, most president experience an inundation of applications at the end of the term - when, if anything, the number of grants actually increases! Perhaps this "aide" was housed in the Department of Agriculture!

And, of course, the most egregious error which emerges from the "aide"s statement is the impression that, somehow, the Department of the Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) were invented, or suddenly took an interest in working on clemency applications, when Obama came into office and, upon their sudden appearance, there also emerged a new need for an "extensive review" process. These bureaucratic structures were, of course, in place long before Obama came into office. That is exactly why most presidents have started granting pardons and commutations early in term, without any discomfort whatsoever. Contrary to the "aide"s false impression, the "extensive review" process does not begin on Inauguration Day.

It is true that a changes in the top DOJ positions (attorney genera, deputy attorney general, etc.) can, potentially, create bumps here and there in clemency processes. But the Obama administration can hardly cite any such concerns as relevant (and has not). Indeed, Obama retained George W. Bush's selection for U.S. Pardon Attorney and, as a result, there is / has been no continuity problem. Nor can any Obama "aide" claim that President Bush handed off a clemency program in wild disarray, swamped with controversy. There are no such problems.

There is, however, a problem with lack of care and concern. There is lack of vision problem. There is a leadership problem.

In sum, the "Hope and Change" banners are not flying high in the Department of Justice's clemency program. But for the fact that terrorist detainees at Gitmo appear to be enjoying special leniency from the DOJ, it is all looking quite like Bush III.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your post and agree with you that Obama has been very slow to grant pardons (perhaps because he wants to demonstrate that his complete attention is focused on the economy). But, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. A presidential pardon does not expunge a criminal record and so there's no real benefit to getting one as you still have to admit to having a record on a job application. I'd rather he focus on changing the law to permit federal expungements than focus on granting individual pardons.

Anonymous said...

Truly amazing the president has not pardoned a single soul. The president has failed his African American brothers rotting in the jail cells of America.

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