Clemency short-cuts

CLEMENCY SHORT-CUTS…. As recently as a few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said those seeking clemency from the president would have to go through the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department.

That, apparently, isn’t quite true. A handful of applicants have found a short-cut, bypassing the Pardon Attorney, levering connections, and heading straight for the White House counsel’s office. Charlie Savage reports:

Of the 20 felony offenders to whom Mr. Bush granted clemency on Dec. 23, most of the attention has focused on Isaac R. Toussie, the New York real estate swindler who had hired a lawyer with political connections and bypassed the normal review process. A day later, the White House took the unusual step of saying it was stopping his pardon.

But Mr. Toussie, who was represented by a former associate counsel to Mr. Bush, was just one of at least four people who gained special access. Two others were also represented by former associate counsels to Mr. Bush. And a White House meeting was devoted to Mr. Prior’s case in part because his lawyer knew the wife of Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa.

People with the wherewithal to do so have always tried to use special access to power to win clemency. And none of Mr. Bush’s decisions have been as controversial as President Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of the fugitive-financier Marc Rich.

But over the last few presidencies, the incentive to try to go around the normal process has increased, said P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who specializes in clemency.

To a certain extent, that’s understandable, given the enormous backlog at the Justice Department’s pardon review office. But as Ruckman noted, this only “encourages people to try to end-run the process — to try to cheat, for lack of a better word, to gain access to the White House directly.”

And the Bush White House rewards the “cheating,” granting access and clemency to those who have the connections.

A year ago, the president said he would follow the DoJ’s pardon guidelines, and only consider clemency for applicants who’ve gone through the appropriate, “rational” process.

Even after all the controversies about Clinton-era pardons, and all the assurances that this president would steer clear of questions of impropriety, Bush has nevertheless created a pardon process that a) breaks with his own public assurances; and b) extends special favors to those with political connections.

Who would have guessed.