Monday, March 29, 2010
On June 6, 1966, Johnson set a new record for the highest number of individual pardons granted in a single day. Johnson broke the forty-three year old record of Warren Harding by granting clemency to ninety-three individuals. But author Kathleen D. Moore notes Johnson was also “disgusted” by “press criticism” of the “large” number of pardons that he granted.
In a 1979 article written for Corrections Magazine, Kevin Krajick notes Johnson averaged about seventy commutations of sentence a year midway through his term. This “reasonably liberal record” was criticized, however, by a U.S. Senator when Johnson commuted the sentence of an organized crime figure from Cleveland. Krajick notes “no one ever made any allegations of impropriety” but Johnson “apparently decided not to risk any more adverse publicity.”
The organized crime figure was one John Alfred Gay, whose 10-year sentence was commuted to seven years by Johnson. With good behavior credit, Gay left prison after only four and a half years. The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a 13-part series on Gay's case and discovered the commutation was granted over the objection of the U.S. Attorney's office. U.S. Pardon Attorney, Reed Cozart, admitted that none of the references in Gay's clemency application were "checked."
But, while he was in the neighborhood and so many people were looking at him, Senator Williams simply could not help but fret over the "new attitude" in the Johnson administration that had led to what he saw as a "spectacular increase" in clemency. He worried about its apparent fondness for "opening prison doors." Williams also had aggregate statistics published in Congressional Record and made a general announcement that it was time to stop "coddling criminals."
Nixon granted a total of 60. Carter granted only 29. Reagan granted 13 in eight years and George H.W. Bush granted only 3. Clinton granted 61 commutations of sentence (most at the scandalous end of his second term) and George W. Bush granted 11 in eight years.