within the next two days, in the last hours of his presidency, Bill Clinton will
exercise his Constitutional power to grant clemency to a lucky group of federal
fraudster Michael Milken wants to be pardoned. So do a slew of other high
profile white-collar criminals. So does convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Leonard
Peltier, convicted of killing two federal agents, wants his jail term commuted.
Susan McDougal and others caught up in the Whitewater scandal want Clinton to
act now. And hundreds of non-violent drug offenders -- victims of Clinton's
misguided war on drugs -- want out of prison. In Washington, rumors are flying
as to who will get a pardon and who won't.
U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to pardon anyone for a federal
crime. Other than political retribution, there are no checks on the President's
you are in jail, and you believe that the sentence was unjust, you can petition
the President to commute your sentence.
if you have already paid your fine, and done your time, you can petition the
President for a pardon. You would want to get a pardon because there are a long
list of civil disabilities that hang on a felony conviction -- barred from
securities industry, can't vote, hunt, get certain licenses in many states --
that you might want to relieve yourself of. And the President can do this for
you. Ninety-five percent of all those granted clemency since 1977 have fallen
into the second category -- pardons.
more than 100 years, the Justice Department has had a Pardon Attorney. It's the
Pardon Attorney's job to process petitions for clemency, and make
recommendations to the President. The Pardon Attorney receives close to 1,300
petitions per year. But most presidents only grant clemency to a handful every
year -- Clinton has granted only 280 in his eight years as President.
Colgate Love, the Justice Department's Pardon Attorney from 1990 to 1997,
believes that the pardon power has been underused. Love believes that pardons
can and should be used as a policy tool -- to send political signals about what
is right and wrong with our criminal justice system.
December 22, 2000, for example, President Clinton commuted the sentences of two
women serving decades-long sentences for minor roles in drug offenses.
President can and should do more," said Rev. Bernard Keels, a member of the
Coalition for Jubilee Clemency, a group of more than 700 faith leaders who
recently sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to grant clemency to
low-level, nonviolent Federal drug offenders.
fear that in the next two days, Clinton will do the Clintonesque thing --
protect his white-collar friends by pardoning them or commuting their sentences,
and at the same time trying to cover his tracks by commuting the sentences of
only a handful of the thousands of non-violent drug offenders who don't have the
high-powered legal talent, resources, or connections necessary to get the
year, Clinton pardoned the former powerful member of the House Ways and Means
Committee Dan Rostenkowski, convicted of crimes related to allegations that he
padded his pockets while in office. Rostenkowski and his highly connected
political friends had visited the White House a number of times since his
conviction in 1993.
Rostenkowski pardon reminds us of similar pardons for the politically connected
and powerful in the past -- the pardons of the convicted multinational
businessman Armand Hammer and of the convicted New York Yankee owner George
we fear that Clinton may misuse that power again -- this time by pardoning those
he wishes to silence -- or pay back for silence -- in the Whitewater matter. Of
course, Clinton can pardon anyone he wants, for any reason. He can even type up
a pardon for himself, stick it in his pocket, and not tell anyone about it --
until an indictment comes down.
with pardons, like with other aspects of the criminal justice system, you get
what you pay for. And this is the season where the white collar criminals have
paid big bucks to hire slick Washington, D.C. lawyers to work the system.
Milken's lawyers thought they scored a coup last week when the New York Times
ran an article headlined "Ex-Financier Milken in Line for a Pardon,
Officials Say." The Times reported that "lawyers said that federal
prosecutors who might have criticized the pardon had not raised any protest with
the White House since news of the possibility of a pardon was first published
fact, prosecutors had vigorously objected to the possibility of a pardon for
Milken, and two days later, the Times was forced to run an extraordinary
correction, in which the paper of record quoted a letter from Securities and
Exchange Commission Enforcement chief Richard Walker as saying that while
Milken's well-known philanthropy was commendable, "it cannot erase his
simultaneous illegal conduct, conduct that occurred after he was convicted and
after he was released from prison."
cannot provide a license to violate the law," Walker wrote.
Dean Moore, a professor of philosophy at Oregon State University, recently
advised Clinton to grant pardons that "can be justified as acts of mercy or
acts of justice -- the two greatest virtues of a ruler."
advice, if he takes it. We fear he won't. Watch out for more political
favoritism to the corporate and white-collar elite that has sustained Clinton
throughout his presidency.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).
Focus on the Corporation columns are posted at <http://www.corporatepredators.org>.
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