Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bremer on Vennes, and the Pardon Process (Part III)

We have followed, with great interest, Karl Bremer's outstanding coverage of the pardon of Frank Vennes Jr. (See first two posts on the case here and here). Bremer has since posted the third installment of the series at Ripple in Stillwater. Although the subject involves a particular case, and the form of analysis if anecdotal, we believe the sheer mass of information Bremer has marshaled reveals this case has probative value. In addition, the carefully crafted conclusions that he reaches are bull's eye material.

Bremer documents that the "pardon trail" of Vennes "is littered with more than $217,000 in political campaign contributions" and letters of recommendation for presidential clemency "from the very same politicians and political officers who benefited from Vennes’ thousands." He also documents the manner in which the "timing" of "many" of these contributions "is in close proximity to activity on his pardon petition. At the very least, writes Bremer, "money appears to have bought the ear of Minnesota politicians for Vennes."

In addition to making the FBI look less than impressive, the Vennes case "points up other long-standing concerns about undue influence on the way the Office of Pardon Attorney operates." In three powerful paragraphs which are likely to find their way into future scholarship and discussions re reform of the clemency process, Bremer writes:
After looking at the documents produced under FOIA, a former federal official familiar with the pardon process said that “it appears that someone with influence must have contacted the White House about the case between the time DOJ sent its denial report in April of 2006 and the time the White House told the Pardon Attorney to 'take another look' at the case (code for 'we want a different recommendation') in July of 2007. But that sort of lobbying happens all the time, and there really isn't anything wrong with it. In fact, I think the White House showed quite a lot of respect for the Justice Department's process by sending the case back for reconsideration.

“What is more interesting is what the documents reveal about the extensive and inefficient meddling with the Pardon Attorney by the Deputy Attorney General's office, which delayed the processing of Vennes' application for years and showed no respect for the official whose job it is to make recommendations to the president. The DAG sent the case back to OPA at least three times between 2002 and 2006, and finally had to direct the Pardon Attorney to change what had been a favorable recommendation to a denial. In 2008, after the White House indicated that it wanted to grant the pardon, the DAG again interfered, this time directing a new Pardon Attorney to make a favorable recommendation.

"Honestly, it is a real shame that the Pardon Attorney can't command more respect in his own agency -- which is precisely what has made the Justice Department so unhelpful to the President in clemency matters over the past 20 years.”
Read all of this very fine piece here.

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