Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obama Team: Everything Normal. We're All Over It!

Joe Pallazolo, at Main Justice, informs readers that, last November, former White House Counsel Greg Craig led a push for "major reforms" in the Office of the Pardon Attorney. He supposedly then "received support" from then Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. Attorney General Eric Holder was said to have "expressed interest" in the plan as well. Craig is now out of government and back in a law firm. Ogden is gone as well. Some say Holder will soon be on his way down the road (out of the administration) too but, regardless, if the hope for clemency reform lies in the hands of the man who let the pardon process all but die during the Clinton administration and facilitated the pardon of Marc Rich and the FALN terrorists, then we might as well all look forward to the emergence of Plan B.

But the punch line is yet to come. A "White House official" assures Mr. Pallazolo that, "like every administration," this one is "updating the policy guidance for the DOJ on requests for executive clemency." And, of course, while that policy is in the making, a "Justice Department spokesman" is declining to comment.

It is, of course, exciting news to hear that the Obama administration is aware that the Office of the Pardon Attorney exists. To date, the President has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence! 455 days, no pardons or commutations of sentence. Is this "like every administration?" Well, the average length of time between taking office and the first pardon or commutation is 122 days. If George Washington is removed from the analysis, the number falls to a mere 80 days. How does 455 days look comparatively? Click here to see

In recent years, there has been talk of making the work of the Office of the Pardon Attorney more "systematic" and representative of explicit "policy" goals and considerations. While there is certainly some value to this talk, the fact of the matter remains that pardon applications come to the Department of Justice one at a time. And there is no doubting that fact that doing justice by individuals should be part of the daily routine in the Department of Justice. Applicants who have served their time and have waited 10 years for clemency should not have to wait another 10 years while some sharp elbowed policy wonk comes up with an idea that will last no longer than his/her service in the Department of Justice, or the length of an administration at best.

Chibueze Okorie, a minister of evangelism, started applying for pardon in 2000. He was arrested for being a driver for a heroin ring in East New York over two decades ago. He served 18 months in prison and, by all accounts, turned his life around. He is not looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card from anyone. He finished his sentence years ago. The justice-blind-approval-rating-crazed president has all of the political cover he needs: Okorie's application is backed by the members of several churches, political leaders throughout the Sate of New York and Sen. Hillary Clinton. But, amazingly enough, Okorie was not able to get a pardon from either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, in part, because a former U.S. Pardon Attorney - whose opinion had considerable impact on the outcome of his application - had this to say about his case:

"This might sound racist, but [the applicant] is about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian. Unfortunately, that's not very honest ..."
The Pardon Attorney was fired and replaced by George W. Bush, but Okorie's application was still denied. PardonPower asks: What grand policy would a Craig, Ogden or Holder come up with to address his case? Before we start thinking of clemency as a process guided by policy, let's not forget it is also a very, very simple act. It is an act that the Obama administration has had hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to perform over the last 455 days. 

One doesn't need to craft a "policy" for Okorie. All one needs is a single ounce of care and the willingness to exercise one of the least restricted and most untouchable powers that a president has. Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin

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