Showing posts sorted by relevance for query FOIA. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query FOIA. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Plodding DOJ Reviews the Truant OPA

What is less than impressive than the Office of the Pardon Attorney ignoring FOIA requests for years, then changing its policy of transparency so it now no longer has to respond to them?

That would have to be the DOJ delaying its response to the "appeal" of the OPA's sloppiness:

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Times: Deep on PR, Concern. Shallow on Insight.

Eric Lichtblau has a piece at the New York Times which is odd in so many ways. He notes, among other things:
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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Obama: Breaking Records in a Broken System

It seems more than likely that, before he leaves office, President Obama will break Woodrow Wilson's record for commutations of sentence. It is, however, more than a little amazing (if not highly informative) to compare the use of federal executive clemency in the two administrations.

By the time he left the White House, Wilson had granted 1,087 presidential pardons (as well as 226 respites and 148 remissions). Obama, however, has granted a mere 70 pardons, the lowest number granted by any president serving at least one full term since John Adams. It doesn't seem likely that Obama will pass out 1,000 plus pardons between now and the end of the term. But there appears to be little concern about it on any front. So, it is what it is.

Consequently, clemency, for Obama, has meant - for the most part - commutations of sentence, almost exclusively for those convicted of drug offenses. And these grants have - for the most part - been granted late in his second term. Indeed, the Obama administration already features the largest 4th-year clemency surge of any administration in history.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Obama's Legacy: Institutional Change v. An "Example"

The New York Times' Matt Apuzzo is struggling mightily with President Obama's legacy re federal executive clemency. He notes Obama "is on pace to be the first president in a half century to leave office with a federal prison population that is smaller than when he was sworn in" and attributes this - in part - to the President's "aggressive use of presidential commutations," a somewhat problematic proposition from a variety of mathematical angles.

Apuzzo describes Obama's "push" for clemency, how he "has used his clemency power to free people jailed for drug crimes." Obama has written "personal letters" telling inmates "he believed they could turn their lives around." Neil Eggleston says the President "is committed to using his clemency power in ways not seen in the modern era” because our nation "is a nation of second chances.”

But Donald J. Trump’s AG nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is "looming" over it all. Sessions "strongly opposed Mr. Obama’s liberal approach to criminal justice ... favors vigorous enforcement of drug laws and the use of mandatory minimum sentences." Sessions (a former federal prosecutor) also credits "strict enforcement for today’s low crime rates."

As Apuzzo sees it, "some of Mr. Obama’s criminal justice legacy is easily undone." As an example, he notes DOJ "policies," which "can be torn up." But the elephant in the piece is very clearly federal executive clemency - the pardon power. What is Obama's legacy on that front? What has he done that can be undone?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

FBI Produces FOIA Information on Clinton / Rich Pardon

Bill Clinton and Denise Rich
Bloomberg reports that the FBI has "unexpectedly released 129 pages of documents related to an investigation closed without charges in 2005 into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. The file was actually posted online Monday "but received little attention until the FBI noted it in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon."

Says Bloomberg, "the Clinton campaign immediately questioned the timing of the release."
The investigation stemmed from one of several pardons Clinton made on the last day of his presidency in 2001, that of financier and international fugitive Marc Rich, whose ex-wife Denise had given to the Democratic National Committee and the entity that would later become the Clinton Foundation. While the files may seem dated, they invoke figures beyond the Clintons who went on to play key roles in official Washington -- including Comey. He served as prosecutor in charge of a legal case against Rich from 1987 to 1993. As the U.S. attorney in Manhattan in 2002, Comey took over a criminal investigation of Clinton’s pardons. “I was stunned” at the Rich pardon, Comey wrote in a letter to lawmakers in 2008. 
Former Attorney General Eric Holder has also been critical of Comer. He was, of course, knee-deep in the Rich pardon controversy as well. See more on this story here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Last-Minute" Clemency Has a New Face

"Last-minute" clemency is a term of art. How last-minute is last minute? Bill Clinton did his controversial gig in the final hours. John Adams stretched the nightmare out a bit. Evidently, George Washington did his routine almost literally as he was going out the door.

One standard way to approach the topic is to look at 4th year clemency - or, as we have done, calculate the percentage increase between the average number of clemency grants in years 1-3 and the number of grants in the fourth and final year of the term. By this measure, President Obama's second term represents the greatest last-minute clemency surge in American history.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
While it is true that most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons and commutations in the 4th and final year of the term, it is not true that President Clinton's antics were "business as usual." His kind of dramatic last-minute surge was not the norm.

It might be argued that President Obama's grants are not "last-minute" in any normal sense of the language because they are the by-product of a grueling application process "revamped" via Clemency Project 2014. It would certainly be interesting to trace the progress of applications through the federal bureaucracy - something we used to be able to do - see posts here and here). But the Office of the Pardon Attorney (DOJ) stopped accepting (or even acknowledging the receipt of) FOIA requests way back in 2014 (see post here).  Thus, there is simply no way to make even superficial assessment of the deliberative nature of the clemency process in this historic last year of the Obama administration.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Keys to Eggleston: Get Me Clemency From Obama!

Matthew Keys
Josh Gerstein (Politico) writes that Matthew Keys, "a California-based journalist facing a two-year prison term after being convicted in a hacking case," is looking for help from President Obama. More specifically, Keys - who maintains his innocence - is entering prison for:
" ... posting login credentials for a Tribune Co. publishing system in an online forum used by members of the hacking group Anonymous. At a trial last fall in federal court in Sacramento, a jury convicted Keys of three felony counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. over the episode, which led to a news story on the Los Angeles Times website being briefly defaced."
Notably, Keys is not not making his play to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, in the Department of Justice, where record numbers of applications are being denied, closed, or left pending and the receipt of FOIA requests are not even recognized, much less addressed.

No, Keys addressed his letter to White House Counsel Neil "Starving and Sleepless" Eggleston and - Gerstein tells us - argues his crime was "relatively innocuous" and his sentence "is wildly excessive." Keys wrote:
 "Although I do not understand the nuances of law, I am aware that at this point only presidential intervention in the form of a commutation of sentence or a presidential pardon can prevent the execution of this draconian sentence ... Therefore, I respectfully request your assistance in advocating on my behalf for President Obama to review my case and consider using any and all executive powers afforded to him in preventing my scheduled incarceration and any other provision of the sentence for his he feels is unjustified and unwarranted. Doing so would not only reverse what many consider to be an unwarranted sentence triggered by an overzealous prosecutor based on a draconian and outdated law, it will allow me to continue serving the public as a journalist." 
See Gerstein's full story here.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Post: 7+ Years of "Expecting" Continues

Obama: Planning to Plan
It says a great deal when, more than seven years into his presidency, the Washington Post uncritically reports President Obama "is expected to grant clemency" in "the coming weeks."

Yes, yes, this sort of thing has been "expected" for a long, long time now.

The Post notes that, more than a few weeks ago - way back in 2014 - former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "launched an initiative to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison." The Office of the Pardon Attorney was already receiving record numbers of clemency applications at the time and the results have been wildly unimpressive to date.

Including the years before and since the "launch," Obama has granted - according to the Post - 184 commutations of sentence (we count 187) and more than 9,000 additional applications are waiting. Meanwhile, on the pardon front, few presidents have ever been so merciless, so indifferent to the need for second chances.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
Where applications are in the bureaucratic stream (the U.S. Pardon Attorney’s office? the office of Deputy Attorney General? or the White House Counsel’s office?) cannot be determined just yet because that information is "not publicly available."

When the administration was more prompt in responding to FOIA requests by the Editor of this blog, it was known that applications came into the White House in a fairly regular fashion, throughout the months of the year, but were generally granted in November and December (see post here). Data gathered early in the administration also showed the typical clemency grant took 4 years to process and spent over 260 days in the White House Counsel's office.

The Editor of this blog calls for more transparency along these lines in a forthcoming article, "Preparing the Pardon Power for the 21st Century." University of St. Thomas Law Journal.

See Post article here. This post was visited by the Executive Office of the President oft the United States on April 11, 12016.

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."

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2009

 10: In April, Senator John McCain announced that he would, once again, push for a presidential pardon on behalf of the long-dead boxer, Jack Johnson. Bill Clinton was the first president to ever issue a posthumous pardon (to the first African-American graduate of West Point, Henry Flipper). With good reason, every administration previous to Clinton refused to even entertain such applications. George Bush granted two posthumous pardons (one to Charlie Winters, the other unintentionally). But toward the end of this year, the Obama administration indicated that it would return to the policy of using the pardon power for the more practical purpose of providing real relief for those who are living (no offense to to the shallow, desperate, well-after-the-fact and purely symbolic politics of Congress, the least popular branch).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Remembering Hunt's Search for Clemency

The FBI has released 167 pages of E. Howard Hunt's file as a result of a FOIA request by the Associated Press. Hunt worked for the CIA for more than two decades but made his mark in history by planning the Watergate break-in and serving 33 months in prison. It is reported that the "vast majority" of the file "relates to Hunt's request for a presidential pardon from President Ronald Reagan in 1981." In his application, Hunt said he had acted on what he "believed" to be "executive authorization delegated to the then Attorney General." He also argued that he was worthy of clemency because of his age, service to the country and his testimony against John Mitchell and John Ehrlichman. The request was denied. See story here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Context: The Amazing Marc Rich Pardon Application

Judicial Watch has recently announced that it has received an "official" copy of the Marc Rich / Pincus Green pardon application via a FOIA request. I have had the application in hand for several years now and composed a brief description of it in a passage in my forthcoming book, Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy. Below is a snippet:
... The application for pardon, submitted on December 11, well emphasized what must surely have been considered to be the single most important detail by the applicants. The first two sentences of the “Executive Summary” (page two) which followed a cover sheet read:
This petition sets for the request of Mr. Marc Rich and Mr. Pincus Green for a Presidential Pardon. Mr. Rich and Mr. Green are internationally recognized businessmen and philanthropists who have contributed over $200,000,000 to charity in the past twenty years, and donated countless hours to humanitarian
causes around the world.
There followed a second, more traditional, line of argumentation which explained that Rich and Green were seeking a pardon, even though they had “never been convicted of criminal offenses,” because they had been “wrongfully indicted” in an “unfair and unwarranted” manner. Rich and Green were said to have a “complete defense” against the “accusations” in the indictment against them, although the cynic might have wondered why such wealthy, confident fugitives would not simply return to the United States, beat the flimsy charges against them, embarrass the over-zealous prosecutors who were out to get them personally and swiftly clear their honorable names in court.
But the pardon application attempted to ease the burden of such curiosity, first, by describing Rich and Green as being “in exile.” Secondly, the application noted the return of the fugitives was “untenable” because they would face “immediate incarceration” and a “certain media circus.” As a result, it was “illusory” to think that the United States was even capable of giving the two men a “fair trial.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Campaign 08: Hillary, Donations, Records and the Pardon

Judicial Watch has announced that it has obtained the "official" pardon application submitted to the Clinton White House by attorney Jack Quinn on December 11, 2000, on behalf of former fugitive Marc Rich, who fled the United States to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud and tax evasion charges. The application was made available in response to a FOIA request made in 2006. (Editor: unofficial copies have been available for many years now). Rich's ex-wife, Denise, made large contributions to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign and to the Clinton Presidential Library foundation in the months leading up to the pardon. The National Archives, under the direction of Bill Clinton, continues to withhold hundreds of pages from public disclosure. Judicial Watch also says that it expects to receive 10,000 pages of the former First Lady's daily schedule records by March 20, 2008. See article here.

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