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I Beg Your Pardon: Thanksgiving Comes Early

Last week, we riffed on the possibility of presidential pardons as the Bush administration winds down.

Since then, President Bush pardoned 14 people -- raising his relatively low tally from 157 a week ago to 171. By contrast, Harry Truman pardoned nearly 2,000 people during his eight years in office.

Bush also commuted sentences this week for two men convicted of drug offences, including John Forte, a Grammy-award winning hip-hop artist and former backup singer for Carly Simon. Forte was sentenced in 2001 to 14 years in prison for aiding and abetting in the distribution of cocaine. Both Simon, and another musician, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), lobbied on his behalf.

In keeping with his record, Bush again pardoned more people from Texas than any other state. None of those pardoned Monday is nationally known. Only four of the 14 served any jail time. The rest, including Leslie Owen Collier, a Missouri farmer who was convicted of taking bald eagles and fatally poisoning other animals, received sentences of probation, often combined with fines.

The White House hasn’t said whether Bush is considering additional pardons, though the Justice Department is reviewing hundreds of applications. Pardon attorneys are pushing the president to issue many more pardons before leaving office on Jan. 20.

Several readers noted that Conrad Black, the Canadian-born Anglophile and media baron, is seeking a pardon. Black was convicted at the end of 2007 for defrauding his own newspaper company. He was sentenced to six-and-half years in jail and ordered to pay more than $6 million back to Hollinger Inc., which published The Chicago Sun-Times and The Jerusalem Post. He is currently in prison in Florida.

A Pennsylvania newspaper reported that the family of John Rigas, the former owner of Adelphia Communications, is interested in pardons. Rigas and his son Timothy were convicted of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion after their family business--once the country’s fifth-largest communications company--collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002. John Rigas is serving 12 years in prison and Timothy is serving a 17-year sentence.

And there are a whole slew of jailed former governors. Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges he is fighting; Edwin Edwards, the 82-year-old former governor of Louisiana was sentenced in 2001 to 10 years in jail on racketeering charges and is actively seeking a pardon; and George Ryan, the former governor of Illinois was convicted in 2006 for corruption.

A reader asked about the possibility of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard, the former naval intelligence analyst who was convicted for spying for Israel in 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jewish organizations continue to seek clemency for Pollard but his attorneys have said they are being blocked from applying because they have been denied access to sealed records pertinent to the case.

The same reader asked about Larry Franklin, a former pentagon analyst who was charged with disclosing classified information to employees of the Israeli lobby group AIPAC, and an Israeli diplomat. Franklin was sentenced in 2006 to nearly 13 years in jail and fined $10,000. The two lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted in 2005 for violations of the espionage act but the case has yet to go to trial.

Another reader noted that Mitchell Wade was the key cooperating witness in the corruption case against former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Wade, the former CEO of a defense contractor known as MZM Inc., bribed Cunningham over several years. When the case came to light, he delivered crucial evidence that prompted Cunningham to plead guilty to charges of accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes. Wade is awaiting sentencing.

The possibility of preemptive pardons for people involved in President Bush’s “War on Terror” also is getting more interesting since we first raised it. Last week, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), introduced a House resolution to prevent blanket pardons.

Pardon Power, a Web site, maintained by pardons expert P.S. Ruckman Jr., tracks clemency requests. Officials pardon statistics can be found on the Justice Department’s Web site.

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