And in his final week in office, Mr. Obama is likely to grant commutations to shorten the prison sentences of still more nonviolent drug offenders, officials said. He has already issued more than 1,000 commutations — more than the number issued by the prior 11 presidents combined, according to the White House.This is, of course, the now-tiresome White House PR mantra, which ignores the fact that 1) previous presidents had miserable records re commutations of sentence 2) Obama has had - and denied - many more commutations than his immediate predecessors combined and 3) Obama's record on pardons is, in fact, quite ugly. Nor is there any mention of the fact that most of these commutations have popped up in the last two years of the term and that President Obama is currently engaged in the greatest last-minute clemency spurge in history (it's not over).
But more - yes, more - than all of that ... it is utterly amazing that someone could write on this topic, in the New York Times (!!!), and not say a single word, nothing, about the Attorney General's recent claim that the President of the United States does not have the power to grant a group pardon, or an amnesty, on behalf of many thousands of persons who are similarly situated. A bizarro idea seemingly shared by the President himself! That's really the only thing anyone should be writing about on this topic at present. Instead, Lichtblau writes:
But that legacy is about to come under quick siege with the incoming Trump administration’s “law and order” platform, as Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, President elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, made clear last week at his confirmation hearing ...Well, plenty of time to focus on what is ahead. Let's focus on right now, and how right now shapes what is ahead. President Obama did nothing - zero - in terms of reform, institutional change re the pardon power. It still sits in the basement of DOJ, manned by career prosecutors. They were experts at saying "no" before Clemency Project 2014 and they will clearly retain that expertise when President Obama leaves office. To boot, they will get to those FOIA requests, if they think they have enough time, after a discussion ... and their new "electronic" case filing system is ... updated!
Lichtblau is surely right. Obama's ideas will leave with Obama. Shocking.
That is exactly why Obama should have focused on real, lasting change more so than a loud, last-minute belch of mercy. Trump and Sessions will inherit the same DOJ / OPA Obama inherited from his predecessors. They will inherit the same clemency process as well, the one that was so lame that a small pile of commutations and pardons here and there will amount to "records" and "history making."
It would not be surprising at all if Trump waited for an eternity to grant the first pardon or commutation of sentence of his term - just like Obama. It would not be surprising at all if Trump saves clemency for Christmas and/or the very end of the term - just like Obama. It would not be surprising at all if Trump denies the vast majority of applications - just like Obama.
Whose fault is all of that? Plenty of blame to share. Plenty. See Lichtblau's full editorial here.