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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Toobin Doubles Down on Sloppiness

In his new book on Patricia Hearst, CNN legal analyst and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Toobin asserts Hearst was the first person in American history to receive a commutation of sentence from one president and a presidential pardon from another. It is a catchy assertion that he has repeated in interviews while hawking the work (see examples here). The problem is that Toobin is wrong. Really, really wrong (see proof here). Indeed, the error is of such a brutal, magnificent nature, one is easily led to the conclusion that he is inexcusably incompetent in his writing / research or - at a minimum - in dire need of assistance / supervision.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders alerted Toobin to a world of information contradicting his assertion and his response was to say he found it all "fascinating." Today, Saunders writes:
Toobin told me Monday he regrets the error and welcomes all corrections that improve the record. He didn’t know about the pardons Ruckman cited. He should have said Hearst was the first such recipient in “modern American history.” (See Saunders' column on the matter here).
We are pleased (relieved, frankly) to learn of Toobin's sense of error, but we find his recalibration - at best - still more sloppy guesswork. At worst - he appears to want to believe that the steam roller of evidence presented to him was a mere "improvement" on his very fine work.

Yes, it's pretty clear, Toobin just doesn't get it.

Toobin's book provides no reference for his original assertion and, apparently, he did not provide one to Saunders. And with good reason. It was a ridiculously dumb thing to write. Can Toobin now produce a source which says no recipient in "modern American history" has benefited from clemency from two presidents? We are guessing not. But, even if he could, it would only prove one thing: there is at least one other person as clueless about the pardon power as Jeffrey Toobin. Unfortunately, the recalibrated assertion is just as foolish as the original (in-print, repeated) version. Here's why:

We don't know what la-la land Toobin wanders around in, but political scientists operationalize (define) the "modern" presidency as the period of time from 1900 forward or, alternately, from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt forward. Almost all of the examples we provided of commutations and pardons granted by different presidents were in the 1900s (click here). One notable example was from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Dinshah Ghadiali). Roosevelt pardoned individuals whose sentences were commuted by presidents before him in at least four other instances (in 1937, 1943 and 1944). That's right, FDR did - five times - what Toobin's book claims no other president had ever done once!

But maybe FDR is not "modern" enough for Toobin. He has his own definitions to work with ... at least when embarrassingly pushed into a corner. Two of the examples we noted were from the administration of Harry Truman, in 1945 and 1951. Is that "modern" enough? Oh, surely not. Ancient history.

On June 1. 1945, Harry Truman commuted the ten-year prison sentence of one Kurt Malzahn to time served. Then, on July 27, 1956, Dwight Eisenhower granted Malzahn a full and unconditional pardon. 1956? Why Toobin wasn't even born by then. Not nearly "modern" enough!

Leonard Layton was sentenced to death in March of 1932. His sentence was commuted to life in prison, by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. On June 3, 1967 (when Toobin was 6-7 years old), Lyndon Johnson granted Layton a full and unconditional pardon.

Maybe "modern American history" did not begin until the Beatles broke up. Who knows? Toobin needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment. He was / is really sloppy on this front ... perhaps because of too much eagerness to appear catchy, perhaps out of laziness, perhaps out of habit, perhaps because he simply had no idea where to turn to get good information to accurately assess his guesses, perhaps simply because, damnit, he is Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker ... and he can be that way if he wants too. Regardless, it's all slop.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Toobin: Still the Worst of the Worst

When Jeffrey Toobin last stepped on the public stage re the pardon power, he was parroting the ignorant line that President Bush would have to grant a pardon to Scooter Libby, or Libby would go to jail. He seemed to have no idea what a commutation of sentence was, or a respite. It was a dramatically pathetic display for such a high profile "legal expert."

Now, Toobin is back, suggesting President Obama's "orderly mind" - and the fact that he is a "consummate rationalist" - is the cause of his disastrous record in the matter of clemency - the foolish premise being that pardons are outside of the world of separation of powers and checks and balances ... you know ... the Constitutional order and what not.

No, to Toobin, a merciless administration is a really smart one.

"Pardons," Toobin writes, "rely exclusively on the whim of the grantor." If, by that, he means, it is an executive power, then sure. Just like legislation relies exclusively on the whim of the legislature. And judicial review relies on the whim of courts. And ... you get the idea.

But, worse, Toobin carpet bombs his readers with stupidity when he fails to recognize the fact that there is a Department of Justice, an Office of the Pardon Attorney, the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the Deputy Attorney General, judges and U.S. Attorneys who vet clemency applications. Presidents are not sitting in bed late at night, reading thousands of applications, one a time, by candlelight, then flipping a coin and making decisions on how they feel right before they dose off. Maybe Toobin does not know what the word "whim" means.

Toobin writes, "his Presidential power is descended from the concept known in Great Britain as the royal prerogative of mercy"- which is great stuff for Hallmark greeting cards. But what he needs to do is pick up the Federalist papers and see Alexander Hamilton's discussion of the matter. The Founding Fathers developed an orderly Republic featuring a very rational system of checks and balances because they assumed judges and legislators are not perfect - Toobin may disagree. Regardless, presidents are not kings. We elect them. We override their vetoes. We cut off their funding. And we can impeach them to boot.

Toobin writes: "A commutation allows a convict to leave prison at a designated date." Wrong. It reduces the severity of a sentence. Toobin should know that. Scooter Libby never served a day in prison but received a commutation of sentence.

Toobin writes: "In seven years, Obama has now issued ... only sixty-one pardons." Wrong. Obama has granted 66 pardons.

Toobin writes: "All Presidents and governors (who also have pardon power) are haunted by the possibility that they might release someone who goes on to commit horrible crimes. (Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas pardoned several people who did just that.)"

Gaaawwwd ! While encouraging the President to pardon, Toobin unwittingly spreads the virus that has persistently discouraged pardoning: stupid commentary. Huckabee did not pardon Maurice Clemmons. Clemmons has never been pardoned by anyone. Further, Clemmons was released via the decision of a parole board, not a pardon. Beat up on them, Mr. Toobin. Show off. Look up their names.

When it comes to bad commentary about pardons, Jeffrey Toobin is hard to beat. See this train wreck here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alabama: Toobin on (for) Siegelman

Jeffrey Toobin first made his mark on the presidential pardon radar by repeatedly insisting that George W. Bush would have to "pardon" Scooter Libby, or Libby would have to march off to prison. It was great for the purposes of dramatic commentary, but certainly didn't say much positive about Toobin's understanding of the pardon power, or research ability. See commentary here and here.

Now Toobin is "back," in the New Yorker, arguing that President Obama "should" do a "risky" challenge by "commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman:
... the former governor of Alabama. Siegelman, a Democrat, served a single term in office, from 1999 to 2003, in the last days before Alabama turned into an overwhelmingly Republican state. He’s spent the subsequent decade dealing with the fallout from the case that landed him in prison—a case that, at its core, is about a single campaign contribution. 
As it happens, the contribution was half a million dollars, and it was "to support the pro-lottery campaign" that was rejected by voters. Siegelman then reappointed the donor to the State's Certificate of Need Review Board (which regulates health care in the state).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Toobin on Hearst: The Train Wreck Continues

Regular readers of this blog may be aware that - when it comes to the pardon power - we hold "legal expert" Jeffrey Toobin in very low regard (see previous commentary here). Indeed, we know of no other commentator / author so highly touted who so brutally mangles facts and history on this front. And, just when we think he could not possibly do any worse ...

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders tweets:
In his book on Patty Hearst @JeffreyToobin writes she is only person to win commutation fr 1 prez, pardon from another. 
Indeed, page 387 of the work informs readers such a thing had never happened before, in American history ! It is no wonder LA. Weekly calls the book "spell-binding." The Washington Post goes further, saying Toobin's book is "an intelligent page-turner." The San Francisco Chronicle calls it a "book for the expert."

It would be fun to have some insight as to how Toobin came to this conclusion, but the statement does not feature a footnote ... and with good reason ... because it could not be more wrong. We are not certain Toobin could have found anyone else in the universe who would write such a ridiculous statement. And, had Toobin done so, it would have only established one thing: there is at least one other person as clueless about pardons as Jeffrey Toobin.

Throughout American history, presidents have frequently commuted death sentences and, later, their successors have granted pardons to the individuals who were spared. Those quite notable examples stand out in our mind immediately. But many more individuals have received commutations for less serious offenses and were later pardoned by another president. We would guess - with an extremely high level of confidence - more than 100, easily. Very easily.

One intelligent, expert way to address the question is to lift a finger to examine actual data (we recognize that everyone is not situated in such a manner that they are required to do such a thing ... they are, after all "legal experts."). We pulled up a data set of pardons granted by President Taft (this choice of presidents was entirely arbitrary). We then scrolled through the data and found a note leading us to this case:

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
Roosevelt commuted the sentence. Taft granted the pardon. It took us all of 17 seconds to find this, which is just about exactly what we expected given our knowledge of the topic.  Been done many, many times before. Arkansas' "Hanging" Judge Isaac Parker, for example, was almost a machine at creating these scenarios. Here (below), in 1902, Theodore Roosevelt pardoned a man whose Parker delivered death sentence was commuted by Benjamin Harrison, in 1889.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
Actually, on June 19, 1923, Warren Harding pardoned two persons who received commutations of sentence from previous presidents. Robert Boutwell of Texas, whose death sentence was commuted by Grover Cleveland in 1896, and Joe Trumble, whose sentence was commuted by President Wilson, in 1920. See Trumble's clemency warrant below (on the left).

Click on Image (Above)
On October 6, 1917, one Walter Phillips was sentenced to six years at Leavenworth. On July 17, 1920, President Wilson commuted the sentence to four years. Phillips was released on parole January 21, 1921. On December 23, 1921, President Harding commuted the sentence to expire on Christmas Day. Phillips was thus no longer considered to be “in custody.” In 1925, President Coolidge concluded that Phillips “had conducted himself as a good citizen” and restored his civil rights with a pardon. Three acts of clemency for one guy, from three different presidents. Spell-binding.

More famously (or, if you will, Hearst-like), there is a big building in Minneapolis, Minnesota with the name FOSHAY on the top. It was named for utility tycoon Wilbur Foshay whose 15-year prison sentence was commuted to 5 years by Franklin Roosevelt on January 23, 1937. Mr. Foshay received a presidential pardon from Harry Truman on March 26, 1951.

Dinshah Ghadiali - whose Spectro-Chrome devise is to physical health what Toobin's commentary is to the pardon power - received two respites from Calvin Coolidge (in 1927) as well as two commutations of sentence (in 1928 and 1929). But it was Franklin Roosevelt who finally granted Ghadiali a pardon, in July of 1937,

Wild west outlaw, motion picture star, Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate and supposed prison mate/ friend of American writer O Henry, Al Jennings had his life- and six-year prison sentences (for assault with intent to kill and mail robbery) commuted by President William McKinley on June 23, 1900. He was then pardoned by President Theodore Roosevelt on February 7, 1907.

William Howard Taft granted two commutations of sentence to W. S. Harlan - the nephew of a U.S. Supreme Court justice (on February 24 and June 21, 1911). Harlan was then pardoned by Woodrow Wilson on September 8, 1913.

When authors used to gather together stories of murder and mayhem on the high seas, they rarely overlooked the multiple murders aboard the Junior and cause celebre Cyrus Plumer. Plumer's sentence was commuted by James Buchanan on July 5, 1859. A full and unconditional pardon was then granted by Ulysses S. Grant on July 18, 1874

Kate Richards O'Hare was the first “important” figure to be indicted under the Espionage Act. O’Hare’s fame and popularity as a socialist speaker increased to the point that she was considered second only to Eugene V. Debs. So, she became the first woman to ever to run for the United States’ Senate. O'Hare was eventually charged with interfering with the war effort by obstruction of recruitment and enlistment in the armed forces and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. President Wilson commuted O’Hare’s sentence after she had served a little over a year (in May of 1920). President Coolidge granted O’Hare a full pardon in January, 1926.

Then there is one of the most famous clemency cases ever. It led to a classic Supreme Court decision that is standard fare in constitutional law texts (didn't Toobin go to law school?). Vuco Perovich was the first person sentenced to death by hanging in the State of Alaska. He was scheduled to hang on August 14, 1907, but on June 5, 1909, President Taft commuted Perovich’s sentence “to imprisonment for life." He then received a pardon from Calvin Coolidge on July 25, 1927.

Charles Bernstein's case was notable in the District of Columbia. Twice sentenced and originally scheduled for execution. he received reprieves from FDR on January 7, March 4, 1935 and March 25, 1935, and commutations on May 28, 1935, and June 12, 1940. He was finally pardoned by Harry S Truman on April 30, 1945. Bernstein later testified before the House Judiciary Committee and a Senate bill sought compensation for his false convictions. Congress chewed on the matter for seven years and NBC aired a program based on his story - which led to a notable law suit. Probably not enough fireworks for a meticulous scholar / expert like Toobin to even notice.

We don't want to beat a dead horse. We know fame is fleeting. Really, we get it. But you have to work at being as clueless as Toobin is on this front. You gotta want it. Bad.

Far from being simply a matter of calling out sloppy (but really interesting) writing and research, the topic is of considerable import at present. The President has made an issue of commutations and is likely continue to do so. Those interested in reform of the criminal justice system note the collateral consequences of felony convictions make it quite hard for individuals to integrate back into society as law-abiding, productive citizens. They argue the President should also be granting pardons, to restore civil rights, and remove unnecessary hurdles.

Of course, President Obama's term is about to come to an end. Are pardons - from presidents to follow - so freakishly rare that only the likes of Patricia Hearst has pulled one off? Yes, but only if you are unfortunate enough to read - and believe - the "legal expertise" of Jeffrey Toobin.

UPDATE: Having been informed of the information in this post, Jeffrey Toobin has tweeted that he finds it "fascinating."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

FLASHBACK: Toobin on Libby, the Pardon Power

Jeffrey Toobin's preference for dramatic error over scholarship and expertise is ... well ... a thing:

Wolf Blitzer asked “senior legal analyst” Toobin if George W. Bush could do “something sort of a pardon” for Scooter Libby, perhaps “suspending” or “shortening the sentence?” Amazingly, Toobin responded:
Well, I have to say, maybe there are some constitutional experts out there who will contradict me, but I don't think the president has that authority. I think it's an all or nothing proposition. He can pardon "Scooter" Libby and end the case against him today. But other than that, he has no authority, as I understand it, to get involved in the process at all. THE SITUATION ROOM, June 14, 2007.
Read that again! "There may be some people with expertise on this matter, who know more than I ever will - on this topic - but I am Jeffrey Toobin and I think what I think is what really matters most! Furthermore, my view is really dramatic." The cynic might call this approach a bit "snotty."

Two editorials, one at the Washington Post (William Otis, "Neither Prison Nor Pardon: Justice in the Libby Case Lies With Bush's Third Option." June 7, 2007) and the other at National Review (P.S. Ruckman, Jr. "Respite for Scooter." June 14, 2007), had it right. It was not an either/or situation for the President at all. Bush had a range of choices and all of them involved the constitutional use of the pardon power.

Indeed, Bush did not pardon Libby. He simply commuted the 30-month prison sentence, leaving the remaining portion of the sentence intact.

A “totally shocked” Toobin told CNN, “Maybe I'm just naive.” ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES, “No Prison For Libby.” July 2, 2007.

Yeah, maybe.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Toobin: Spell-Binding. Fascinating. Sloppy. Wrong.

Jeffrey Toobin on PBS News Hour:


Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 7, 2016


Sacramento Bee, August 13, 2016


The Economist, August 13, 2016

See our commentary on Toobin's amazing insights here. and here.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Where is CNN's Senior Legal Analyst?

We had a good chuckle last night, watching CNN's "Senior Legal Analyst" Jeffrey Toobin unwind this marvelous piece of punditry:
"... Governor Blagojevich, who literally has no support in the state of Illinois."
Thinking back to Toobin's work on the Libby commutation, we think we are long overdue for this sharp mind to get all over the pardon of Isaac Robert Toussie. Has Toobin said a word? Anyone?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Eggleston Spikes Ball. Bounces Wrong

(Editor's Note: Please explore the data links in this piece.

President Obama waited longer than any Democratic president in history to grant the first pardon of his administration. Only one other president, of any party waited longer.

Obama's first term - featuring 22 pardons and 1 commutation of sentence - was the least merciful term since George Washington's first.

Well into his second term, Obama's DOJ - officially, with great aplomb - called for more clemency applications ... when it was already getting record numbers of them. Commutation applications in particular were outsourced to Clemency Project 2014 (an independent, unaccountable, non-transparent collection of lawyers).

The Office of the Pardon Attorney - begging for more funds/resources - instituted a new "electronic file system" that actually provides less convenient access to information than when the staff in that office got up from their desks, went for a walk, and hand-wrote notes on outside of file folders with a freaking pencil ! To retrieve information - once so immediately accessible - now requires "an expensive undertaking," if not additional "custom" development of the "system."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thin Line Between White House's PR and BS

We have noted the goofy nature of White House / Department of Justice PR work on clemency before. The classic stunt had to be bragging about the President's "bold" action re commutations of sentence and offering up - as proof - the fact that he had granted more commutations than the previous four presidents combined. It was of course, something like bragging about being more merciful than Attila the Hun. Punch line was that the President had only granted 1 (that's right, a whopping ONE) more commutation of sentence than the previous four, despite the fact that he had received 1,000 plus more applications for such (see our commentary here).

Today, the White House produced a similarly goofy chart, for PR purposes, but, more entertainingly, starving / sleepless Neil Eggleston crafted this paragraph:
Earlier this month, President Obama granted commutation to 214 federal inmates,  the most commutations granted in a single day by any President in this nation’s history. With today’s additional 111 grants, the President has commuted the sentences of 325 people in the month of August alone, which is the greatest number of commutations ever granted by a president in a single month. The 325 commutations the President has granted in just one month is more than any president granted in a single year for nearly a century.
First, when the President granted the 214 commutations of sentence, it was NOT announced as the "most commutations granted in a single day by any President in this nation's history." There is a simple reason why 1) at the time, no one in the White House or Department of Justice had any idea whatsoever that that was the case, because  2) no one in the White House or Department of Justice had comprehensive data on the matter.  So - at the time - Neil Eggleston simply guessed that it was the highest number of commutations of sentence granted in a single day "since at least 1900." And he was wrong. The effects of sleep deprivation, no doubt.

Eggleston now guesses - out loud - that Obama has set a record for the most commutations of sentence in a single month. Are we to conclude they now have comprehensive monthly data back to 1789? We are very confident that is not the case.

This is all Jeffrey Toobin-like, And that is very, very sad.

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