Journalism in the Public Interest

Presidential Pardons Heavily Favor Whites

To avoid repeating a scandal like his predecessor’s, George W. Bush gave career lawyers in the Justice Department far-reaching authority to choose who got presidential pardons. The result: Whites are nearly four times as likely as minorities to win a pardon, even when the type of crime and severity of sentence are taken into account.

(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

First of two parts. Part two here. This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, a ProPublica examination has found.

Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data.

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

"I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans getting pardons."

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

ProPublica's review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the "attitude" and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

Senior aides in the Bush White House say the president had hoped to take politics out of the process and avoid a repetition of the Marc Rich scandal, in which the fugitive financier won an eleventh-hour pardon tainted by his ex-wife's donations to Democratic causes and the Clinton Presidential Library.

Justice Department officials said in a statement Friday that the pardon process takes into account many factors that cannot be statistically measured, such as an applicant's candor and level of remorse.

"Nonetheless, we take the concerns seriously," the statement said. "We will continue to evaluate the statistical analysis and, of course, are always working to improve the clemency process and ensure that every applicant gets a fair, merit-based evaluation."

Bush followed the recommendations of the pardons office in nearly every case, the aides said. The results, spread among hundreds of cases over eight years, heavily favored whites. President Obama -- who has pardoned 22 people, two of them minorities -- has continued the practice of relying on the pardons office.

"President Obama takes his constitutional power to grant clemency very seriously," said Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman. "Race has no place in the evaluation of clemency evaluations, and the White House does not consider or even receive information on the race of applicants."

The president's power to pardon is enshrined in the Constitution. It is an act of forgiveness for a federal crime. It does not wipe away the conviction, but it does restore a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and serve on federal juries. It allows individuals to obtain licensing and business permits and removes barriers to certain career opportunities and adoptions.

To assess how the pardons office selects candidates for pardons, ProPublica interviewed key officials, obtained access to thousands of pages of internal documents and used statistical tests to measure the effects of race and other factors on the outcome.

From 2001 to 2008, Bush issued decisions in 1,918 pardon cases sent to him by the Justice Department, most involving nonviolent drug or financial crimes. He pardoned 189 people - all but 13 of whom were white. Seven pardons went to blacks, four to Hispanics, one to an Asian and one to a Native American.

Fred Fielding, who served as Bush's White House counsel, said the racial disparity "is very troubling to me and will be to [Bush], because we had no idea of the race of any applicant."

"The names were colorblind to us," Fielding said, "and we assumed they would be at all levels of clemency review."

Beginning in September 2010, the Justice Department was required to make available the names of people denied pardons. Bush's pardon decisions were selected to examine the impact of the pardons office's recommendations over a president's full term and to test how well the office met the president's goal of assuring fairness in the process.

The department does not reveal race or any additional information that would identify an applicant, citing privacy grounds. To analyze pardons, ProPublica selected a random sample of nearly 500 cases decided by Bush and spent a year tracking down the age, gender, race, crime, sentence and marital status of applicants from public records and interviews.

In multiple cases, white and black pardon applicants who committed similar offenses and had comparable post-conviction records experienced opposite outcomes.

An African American woman from Little Rock, fined $3,000 for underreporting her income in 1989, was denied a pardon; a white woman from the same city who faked multiple tax returns to collect more than $25,000 in refunds got one. A black, first-time drug offender -- a Vietnam veteran who got probation in South Carolina for possessing 1.1 grams of crack - was turned down. A white, fourth-time drug offender who did prison time for selling 1,050 grams of methamphetamine was pardoned.

All of the drug offenders forgiven during the Bush administration at the pardon attorney's recommendation - 34 of them - were white.

Turning over pardons to career officials has not removed money and politics from the process, the analysis found. Justice Department documents show that nearly 200 members of Congress from both parties contacted the pardons office regarding pending cases. In multiple instances, felons and their families made campaign contributions to the lawmakers supporting their pleas. Applicants with congressional support were three times as likely to be pardoned, the statistical analysis shows.

In reviewing applicants, pardon lawyers rely on their discretion in ways that favor people who are married and who have never divorced, declared bankruptcy or taken on large amounts of debt. The intent, officials say, is to reward people who demonstrated "stability" after their convictions. But the effect has been to exclude large segments of society.

The ProPublica data show that applicants whose offense was older than 20 years had the best odds of a pardon. Married people, those who received probation rather than prison time, and financially stable applicants also fared better. When the effects of those factors and others were controlled using statistical methods, however, race emerged as one of the strongest predictors of a pardon.

The most striking disparity involved African Americans, who make up 38 percent of the federal prison population and have historically suffered from greater financial and marital instability. Of the nearly 500 cases in ProPublica's sample, 12 percent of whites were pardoned, as were 10 percent of Hispanics.

None of the 62 African Americans in the random sample received a pardon. To assess the chances of black applicants, ProPublica used the sample to extrapolate the total number of black applicants and compare it with the seven blacks whom Bush pardoned. Allowing for a margin of error, this yielded a pardon rate of between 2 percent and 4 percent.

Roger Adams served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)Adams, the head of the pardons office under Bush, said applicants were not penalized based on race. In fact, Adams went out of his way, he said, to help black applicants.

"People in general more and more feel that it is appropriate to give extra consideration to a member of a minority group," he said.

Applicants are not asked about their race. But race is listed in many of the law enforcement documents collected for the application, including pre-sentence reports, rap sheets and Federal Bureau of Prisons records.

Under Justice Department regulations, Adams said, lawyers in the pardons office conduct a rigorous review of an applicant's offense. They then examine character, reputation and post-conviction behavior - tests of what Adams termed "attitude."

"Is the person seeking a pardon for forgiveness or vindication?" Adams said. "Are they going to wave a flag around that says a pardon proves they didn't do as bad as the government said?" If so, he said, "it is counted against them."

Samuel Morison, a lawyer who worked in the pardons office for 13 years, said there is an institutional interest in preserving the convictions secured by the government's prosecutors.

"The pardon office is not a neutral arbiter, because the Justice Department was a party to every criminal case it examines," Morison said.

The yardsticks used by the office under Adams continue to be used under his successor, Ronald L. Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and military judge.

Theodore B. Olson, a former solicitor general who has represented high-profile pardon applicants, said he has long been frustrated by the slow pace of the process and its lack of transparency. The Justice Department says the office has increased its efficiency, deciding cases in a little more than two years, an improvement since 2005, when the wait was twice that.

When a pardon is denied, the notice comes with no explanation.

"It just comes out of the blue," Olson said. "You can't explain to your client why, especially when you think you've made a strong case."

Parallel Cases, Disparate Outcomes

Denise Armstead's beauty salon sits on a busy corner in Little Rock's west side. A big sign out front beckons customers from the largely African American neighborhood.

Armstead, who is black, became a hair stylist straight out of high school and dreamed of owning her own salon. Like many small-business owners, she kept her own receipts. An accountant filled out her tax forms.

In 1994, the federal government accused Armstead, then 35, of failing to report $32,000 in income over four years. She hired a lawyer and fought the charges, ultimately getting them reduced to a single count of under-reporting her income in 1989.

Her lawyer, a former Internal Revenue Service employee, advised that a trial would cost more than the $3,000 fine, she said. In a plea bargain, she received three years' probation and paid the fine in installments.

In the same city, Margaret Leggett and her husband, who are white, were also accused of violating federal tax laws. In 1981, Leggett rented an apartment under a fictitious name and her husband created a fake bank account and fake Social Security numbers. They then filed for multiple tax refunds totaling more than $25,000.

Leggett pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government by making false claims. In her mid-30s, she was sentenced to three years in prison but was released after three months. Her husband paid a $5,000 fine and served 15 months in prison.

Years later, Armstead and Leggett each applied for a pardon. On paper, both were strong candidates. They had accepted responsibility in court and completed their sentences with good behavior.

Neither had any other criminal convictions. Both were active in their churches. Leggett and Armstead had both filled out lengthy applications in which they listed their crime, punishment and professional and personal history.

In April 2006, Bush followed the pardon attorney's recommendation and approved a pardon for Leggett. A year later, Bush again followed the attorney's advice and turned down Armstead.

Armstead had a personal reason for seeking a pardon: She had hoped to become a nurse. She was inspired to change professions while caring for her mother, who was dying of renal failure.

"I would take off work and take her to the clinic," she said.

An Arkansas nursing license requires a criminal-background check. Her felony record stood as a potential obstacle, her attorney told her. He recommended she apply for a presidential pardon. She was not aware that her 2002 request had been denied until a reporter informed her this year.

According to Justice Department memos, Armstead was denied "for a four-year course of criminal conduct for which [she] failed to take responsibility." The four years referred to the four charges of tax evasion in the original indictment against her.

Adams said that he did not remember Armstead's case but that, in general, applicants need to show remorse for any conduct they were indicted for, not just the charges to which they pleaded guilty.

"What the person did, as opposed to what they pled guilty to, is a relevant factor in judging how honest they are," Adams said. "This spills over to attitude."

A former White House lawyer said he had no idea the pardons office was considering indictments rather than only convictions in their deliberations.

"I definitely didn't know that," said Kenneth Lee, the associate White House counsel during Bush's second term who dealt with the pardons office. "If we knew these kinds of things, our decision making may have been different."

Leggett lives with her husband in Hot Springs, Ark., where they own a boat repair shop. She said she did not remember why she sought the pardon.

Kenneth Stoll prosecuted both Armstead and Leggett when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Little Rock. Stoll said he does not recall either woman. The pardons office sought a recommendation for Leggett from the prosecutors' office after Stoll had retired. He was not asked his opinion. But, he says now, Leggett's crime was a more significant offense.

Leggett and her husband have been married for more than 30 years. They have owned or operated nearly a dozen businesses.

Though she was divorced when she applied for a pardon, Armstead would still appear to meet the "stability" test. She said her life has remained on an even keel -- she continues to operate her beauty salon and does not have excessive debts.

For applicants who appear to be solid candidates, the pardons office considers the views of prosecutors and judges. Armstead's case never reached that stage.

But the pardons office solicited advice on Leggett - and received lukewarm answers.

The U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock took no position, and the judge did not object to a pardon. But Leggett's bid was opposed by a high-ranking Justice Department official. Eileen J. O'Connor, the assistant attorney general in charge of all criminal tax matters, advised the pardons office that Leggett's application should be denied because she did not "fully admit unconditional responsibility" for her crime.

O'Connor noted that Leggett omitted from her pardon application that she had rented the apartment under a false name and made a utility deposit as part of the ruse to file false returns.

"It appears that she has attempted in her quest for a pardon to minimize her involvement in the crime and shift the blame to her husband," O'Connor wrote.

This could have posed a serious problem for Leggett. The Justice Department explicitly states that applicants need to take personal responsibility for their crimes and show remorse.

But in this instance, pardons office lawyers appear to have accepted what Leggett's husband said at trial, which is that he had talked his wife into participating in the scheme.

Another factor in pardon applications is whether the person has a practical need for presidential mercy.

"If a person doesn't have a reason, it doesn't hurt," Adams said of the policy. "And if a person wants forgiveness, that is fine, but if the need is for licensing or business ownership or to obtain a franchise, that will help, and the office will try to push it farther."

But that did not help Armstead.

An Obscure Office

The declared intent of the Founding Fathers was to have presidential pardon power right miscarriages of justice. Former Supreme Court chief justice William H. Rehnquist called pardons a "fail safe" against the "unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible."

Today, the pardons office places little emphasis on trying to help those who might be innocent. Applicants who claim they were victims of unjust treatment "bear a formidable burden of persuasion," the pardons office says on its Web site. In practice, officials say, that burden is insurmountable.

Article II of the Constitution gives presidents the authority to "grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States." It was among the few royal powers carried over from the British monarchy. In 1788, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 74 that the president would be the best "dispenser of the mercy of government." Groups of men, he argued, were too easily swayed by popular passions.

In 1893, Grover Cleveland issued an executive order delegating the paperwork on pardons to a single office inside the Justice Department. Today, the office employs a lead pardon attorney, a deputy and four additional lawyers. They review hundreds of pardon applications a year.

Leggett and Armstead's applications reached Washington just as this office gained more clout than it ever had.

Marc Rich, seen here in a photo taken in November 1998, was pardoned by President Clinton on his last day in office. The decision caused an uproar once it was reported that Rich's ex-wife had donated almost half a million dollars to the Clinton presidential library. (Guido Roeoesli/AFP/Getty Images)The reason could be traced to one of President Bill Clinton's last acts, his pardon of Marc Rich. The decision became a scandal after reports that Rich's former wife, a big Democratic donor, gave $450,000 to the Clinton Presidential Library. In congressional hearings that followed, it emerged that Eric H. Holder Jr., then deputy attorney general, had encouraged Rich's attorneys to apply directly to the White House.

In response, the incoming Bush administration vowed that the pardons office would vet every applicant.

The office lists on its Web site a five-point test for applicants. The first test is straightforward: Candidates must wait five years after completion of their sentences before applying.

Next, lawyers consider the "conduct, character and reputation" of applicants after they served their sentences. The third point is the need of the applicant, and the fourth is the opinion of prosecutors and judges.

The final point is acceptance of responsibility for their crimes, remorse and atonement.

Pardons office lawyers assess whether applicants lead what Adams called "stable" lives. An applicant who had been divorced would give pause. Owing excessive debt to credit card companies or banks - as many Americans do - could also be a red flag.

"A person in debt is always in some risk of doing something inappropriate to get out of it," Adams said. "It's only natural for the office to be a little cautious."

A review of pardons cases found that some applicants were rejected because they had filed for bankruptcy in the years after their conviction or were unemployed, a situation that is not unusual for convicted criminals, who often have trouble rebuilding their lives.

But Bush pardoned white applicants who had filed for bankruptcies, had driven drunk or had illegally possessed firearms. Two successful applicants lied to the FBI during the background checks that are part of the application process.

A Choke Point

By Bush's second term, it was clear that putting decisions in the hands of the pardons office had dramatically slowed the flow of pardons. Elected as a "compassionate conservative," Bush was on pace to become the least-forgiving two-term president in history.

In 2006, White House Counsel Harriet Miers became so frustrated with the paucity of recommended candidates that she met with Adams and his boss, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.

Adams said he told Miers that if she wanted more recommendations, he would need more staff. Adams said he did not get any extra help. Nothing changed.

"It became very frustrating, because we repeatedly asked the office for more favorable recommendations for the president to consider," said Fielding, who was Bush's last White House counsel. "But all we got were more recommendations for denials."

In 2007, the pardons office was hit with its own scandal.

Nigerian-born Chibueze Okorie, at The Church of Gethsemane, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y., where he has ministered for two decades. (Dan Nguyen/ProPublica)Adams had opposed a pardon for Chibueze Okorie, a Nigerian-born minister beloved by his Brooklyn church. Okorie faced deportation because of a 1992 conviction for possessing heroin with intent to distribute.

"This might sound racist," Adams told colleagues, according to a report from the Justice Department's inspector general, but Okorie is "about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian. Unfortunately, that's not very honest."

When asked by investigators in the inspector general's office to explain his remarks, Adams said that Nigerian immigrants "commit more crimes than other people" and that an applicant's nationality is "an important consideration" in pardons, according to the report. "It's one the White House wants to know about," Adams told investigators.

The inspector general's office disagreed.

"We believe that Adams' comments - and his use of nationality in the decision-making process - were inappropriate," the report concluded. "We were extremely troubled by Adams' belief that an applicant's 'ethnic background' was something that should be an 'important consideration' in a pardon decision."

Adams said his comments about Okorie were focused on his ethnicity, not his race, and were taken out of context by the inspector general's office.

Adams left his post and retired. He was replaced in April 2008 by Rodgers, a former military judge who had prosecuted major drug crimes for the Justice Department's criminal division. Shortly after taking over, Rodgers hired the office's first African American staff attorney.

As the Bush presidency drew to a close, the inability to grant more pardons continued to vex White House officials. Throughout 2008, the White House sent e-mails to the pardons office asking for more candidates. White House lawyers repeatedly asked the office to reconsider cases in which it had recommended denials.

On Sept. 16, 2008, Lee, the associate White House counsel, asked about two pending applicants whose attorneys had contacted the White House.

"As noted previously, we are hoping to get as many clemency recommendations as possible over the next few months," Lee wrote. "To the extent that these two petitions may be 'easy' cases (and I defer to you on that question), it would be helpful if these and other 'easy' cases are given priority."

Rodgers forwarded the e-mail to a staff attorney with a warning to ignore anything in Lee's note that "could be construed as armchair quarterbacking."

With no more than 30 recommendations from the pardons office by the fall, the White House pushed to reverse two denials, Lee and others said in interviews. Then it did something Bush had vowed to avoid, taking up a pardon application from a felon whose case had not been reviewed by the pardon attorney.

Isaac Toussie, a New York developer and Republican political donor, pleaded guilty in 2001 and 2002 to mail fraud and a real estate scheme in which false documents had been submitted to allow low-income buyers to obtain insured mortgages from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Toussie served five months in prison, another five months of home detention and three years of supervised release. He also paid a $10,000 fine.

Toussie had not waited the requisite five years, but one of his attorneys, Bradford Berenson, had been an associate White House counsel during Bush's first term. Berenson took Toussie's case directly to the White House - and it worked. On Dec. 23, 2008, Toussie's name was on the final list of pardons granted by Bush.

That action sparked fury among hundreds of New Yorkers who were involved at the time in a civil litigation suit against the Toussie family over a second real estate project.

After eight years of caution on pardons, Bush had stumbled. On Dec. 24, 2008 - four weeks before Obama's inauguration -- Bush became the first president to announce withdrawal of a pardon.

Bush left office having denied more than twice as many applicants as Clinton. Richard Nixon pardoned more people in a single year than Bush pardoned during two full terms.

Second Chances

Then-President-elect Obama and President Bush leave the White House for the limousine ride to the Capitol for Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)In the final hour of his presidency, Bush confided to Obama his deep frustrations with the pardon process. In the limousine ride the two men shared up Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, Bush offered his successor this piece of advice: "Announce a pardon policy early on and stick to it."

Bush wrote in his memoir that he had been besieged by last-minute pardon requests from politically connected people who did not go through the pardons office.

"At first I was frustrated," he wrote. "Then I was disgusted. I came to see massive injustice in the system. If you had connections to the President, you could insert your case into the last-minute frenzy. Otherwise, you had to wait for the Justice Department to conduct a review and make a recommendation."

Bush resolved to rebuff the personal requests.

The incoming administration needed little prodding on this issue. Obama's top legal advisers already were convinced that the pardon system put the poor at a disadvantage. Gregory Craig, who would become Obama's White House counsel, said he began raising the possibility of reform during the transition.

Craig said pardons were "clearly much more available to people with economic means than those without."

Working with then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, Craig developed a plan to take the vetting of pardon applicants away from career prosecutors.

"I couldn't completely understand the standards being applied by the pardons office," Ogden said in an interview. "They seemed very subjective in some cases, and I thought the standards should come from the president, not from the pardons office."

Craig said he believes pardon applications should be sifted by an independent commission of former judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and representatives of faith-based groups. The commission would make recommendations directly to the president.

Officials envisioned a process in which the president would announce decisions quarterly instead of the traditional grants at Thanksgiving and Christmas. A team of lawyers also suggested that the president explain his decisions, to build confidence in the process and encourage people to apply.

Officials were struck by comparisons between the federal system and those of the states. Depending on the state, pardons can be granted by governors, legislatures or state pardon boards. During the period in which Bush pardoned 189 people, Pennsylvania pardoned more than 1,000.

Several states have adopted the practice of explaining their decisions. Virginia issues public notices praising specific aspects of an applicant's rehabilitation.

Obama officials believed changes in the pardon system could be made by executive order. But two years later, pardon reform efforts were dead. The effort faded away as its key proponents, Ogden and Craig, left the administration.

"We just never got there before I left," said Ogden, who resigned in 2010.

The pardons office continues to function much as it did under Bush, with Obama pardoning only applicants recommended by the office. Obama has denied 1,019 pardon requests, more than Clinton denied during his two terms.

Post researcher Julie Tate and ProPublica researchers Liz Day and Robin Respaut contributed to this report.

The racial disparity is disgusting.  I hope America also realizes that it is a small step between bias on account of race being acceptable and accepting bias on account of religion, politics, and even income level.

Matter of fact I bet the latter bias also exists…a double-whammy for minorities.

If you want to investigate another scandal check into the administration of the clemency programme and see how many times President Obama has issued commutations, his record is even worse than that of his predecessor. And when you’ve finished with that, check into the appalling way in which the International Prisoner Transfer Treaty (concerned repatriation of inmates to serve a sentence in the own country) is administered. The BOP flouts international agreements with blatant disregard yet insists that foreign countries abide by them. A typical example? An Englishman, condemned to die in jail from cancer when ICE refused to repatriate him although he was just three months away from release.  He died in jail. His crime? Incorrectly completing a federal loan form. It is just one example but it goes on and on…....

Asqueroso el G.W.B.

“Sec. 1.10 Advisory nature of regulations.

The regulations contained in this part are advisory only and for the internal guidance of Department of Justice personnel. They create no enforceable rights in persons applying for executive clemency, nor do they restrict the authority granted to the President under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution.”

This is the last section from the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations for Clemency.  This is interesting because in my experience federal regulations are generally enforcable in court because they go through a rigorous process for legality before publication, i.e., they must be based on existing statutes to be cleared.  But in this instance they explicitly state they are not enforcable, which makes them guidelines, niot really regulations.  Every federal agency publishes operating guidelines, based on regulations, but these are often not enforcable in court, probably because they are more subjective and also two steps removed from the language of the law.

Just a suggestion from a non-attorney:  all documents contained in a clemency petition submitted by to the Department of Juctice should have any mention of the applicant’s race redacted.  If they do this for all petitioners then there is at least some chance those making a decision to recommend or not recommend approval would never know the petitioner’s race.

My sense is one source of this apparent racial disparity is access to legal expertise and money by black petitioners.

Sandra Burkhart

Dec. 5, 2011, 9:57 a.m.

The fact that the rich can buy a pardon with political contributions makes me sick and highlights what I have always believed.  You can certainly “buy” justice in the USA.

I don’t understand why there is a focus on race when the details show that race is not a factor.

“The first test is straightforward: Candidates must wait five years after completion of their sentences before applying.

Next, lawyers consider the “conduct, character and reputation” of applicants after they served their sentences. The third point is the need of the applicant, and the fourth is the opinion of prosecutors and judges.

The final point is acceptance of responsibility for their crimes, remorse and atonement.”

It’s not President Obama’s fault if more white than black applicants meet these criteria.

This part of our system of government is in serious need of repair.

The good news is that Irve Lewis “Scooter” Libby did not get a pardon (much to my surprise).

sarah ericsson

Dec. 5, 2011, 3:58 p.m.

Disgusting to realize that innocence is actually a liability because the person won’t show the expected remorse for a crime they didn’t commit!

Will something be done about this? This is an outrage and a petition needs to be formed or something done to make them correct this!

Cristobal Williams

Dec. 5, 2011, 8:12 p.m.

It also needs to be acknowledge that white high profile people are more likely to be the targets of politicized prosecutors, like Gordon Libby. Few prosecutors would dare charge non-whites in such politicized fashion (and I am happy that they don’t do that). Libby didn’t commit any crime whatsoever. THe crime, if any (none, probably) was committed by someone else (Robert Armitage) who the “independent” prosecutor Fitzgerald would not prosecute because he happened to be a political friend. Pardons may not be nice but unfair politicized prosecutions are simply horrible. The trials are done mostly in an area where liberals happen to be an overwhelming majority so republicans are almost always convicted and democrats acquitted. As long as this superpartisan behavior of democratic jurors, prosecutors and judges exist, we will need pardons to compensate.

Why are we shocked by this, don’t forget ER live in Amerikkka

Thank you for this responsible and careful journalistic initiative. It seems to me that those insisting we are “post-racial” would wisely study your report. We tend to confuse bigotry with racism; it is indeed less PC to be overtly bigoted; we have only minimally explored the more nuanced racism that shapes our daily lives in a hundred subtle ways.

G. Y. Fortune

Dec. 5, 2011, 10:44 p.m.

it appears that JohnJ failed the critical reading and thinking parts of his SAT examination. “Details?” No, a well-structured statistical analysis—takes eight syllables to read, and well-taught courses in reading along with intellectual skills to comprehend the year-long study of the data.

thiers a song that says   Haven help us all !!!    rachel love ur show this will never ever change

@Cristobol. Haha. You do remember Libby admitted to supervising the break-ins from across the streets. And of course it was highly publicized… It was WATERGATE! Admission of his guilt doesn’t change your mind about the fairness of his prosecution? Don’t defend what is wrong because of party lines. The illegality of supervising a break in is obvious to the left wing and the right wing… Hopefully


Dec. 6, 2011, 1:20 a.m.

keep up the great revealing work.thanks Rachel and all the People that helped the Author.

I can understand the confusion (after all, the right produces a lot of “crooks”), but the name of the Watergate crook being discussed is G. Gordon Liddy, while the Valerie Plame crook/fall guy is I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (rumor has it the “I” stands for “I didn’t do it; Cheney did - my parents were unusually foresighted.”)

Me, I don’t even like thinking about Liddy….his “15 minutes of fame” is the period I think of when I ponder the corruption that had to have been bubbling beneath the surface, eating away at the Republicans and making them what they are today.  In Watergate, it burst forth - and apparently contaminated all of the modern Republicans, for they’re none of them real Americans anymore in that they only represent the 1% rather than the American people and the United States of America.

“America” is a team sport.

Haha @ibsteve2u. Thanks for the correction. I just read over my comments. I definitely agree. There has been a culture from the right of associating socialist terms to good old American principles to contaminate the ideals that made this country great in the public mindset. What I am talking about is, in the first 70% of the 20th century, when a company did well, the CEO of course made more, but so did his workers. Now, with record growth, the CEO’s net worth increases and the worker’s pay remains stagnant. If the worker feels he is entitled to more, they tag it as a “spreading the wealth” strategy and Un-American. It is sad really.

I read your article with both suprise and anger. It is truly a very informity and revealing piece that shows just how low,but in this case how high racism is a part of very foundation of this country.If Afro-Americans and other minorities can’t get equal treatment from the Presidential Pardon Office, where do they go for justice and equal treatment in a country that is design to prevent them from benefiting from the so-called promises of this nation? After reading this excellent it remind me of what Frederick Douglas say in 1853.” A heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon us. As a people, we feel ourselves to be not only deeply injured but grossly misunderstood. Our white countrymen do not know us. They are strangers to our character, ignorant of our capacity,oblivious to our history and progress,and are misinformed as to the principles and ideas that control and guide us, as a people.” Your article shows that there are important questions to be ask.One being,will the 1st Afro American Preisdent do anything to correct this blatant injustice or will he to, go along with business as usual?

Nancy Robertson

Dec. 6, 2011, 11:11 a.m.

When reporting this story on TRMS, Rachel gleefully smiled that there really is “white privilege.” Wow, she should have made that the best new thing in the world. How is this racist behavior shocking. It is the history of this country and legacy of our country and will not go away until we ALL admit that it exist. JohnJ doesn’t understand why race is a factor. When it is the racist prosecutors and judges that get to make ‘subjective’ opinions. Subjective opinions by white people is kryptonite to minorities but a savior for white people.

Adams, the head of the pardons office under Bush, said applicants were not penalized based on race. In fact, Adams went out of his way, he said, to help black applicants. “This might sound racist,” Adams told colleagues, according to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general [5], but Okorie is “about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian. Unfortunately, that’s not very honest.”

If white people don’t what to be called racist or leave a legacy as being a race of evil/hateful people, I suggest you die and come back as something other than a white person.

@Chad Patten:  lolll…don’t read George Kennan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” as the remarkable similarity between the goals and tactics of our right (the power behind them, rather; the 1% who are Corporate America’s owner/operators) and Stalin and his coterie will…disturb you.

To me, our right’s goal appears to be the replacement of representative democracy with dictatorship by committee much as existed in the Soviet Union for decades, albeit pursued through the simple expedient of purchasing the Republicans wholesale (and Democrats when and if they place themselves on the market) rather than through force of arms (to date, at least - and excluding the occasional use of the police against the OWS protesters). 

That, no doubt, is why our right - even though they are forever warping patriotism into propaganda - gets along so well with the communists in the PRC that they can both sell America out to them and ignore the oppressive measures those communists take against their own people:  The PRC (with a minor twist) is the path that our right wants to force us down.  That is, towards an America that features an otherwise powerless government that acts on behalf of an all-powerful “Business-with-a-capital-B” against a people who are effectively without any rights - particularly labor, environmental, and economic rights - at all. 

The twist being that the PRC empowers/restricts their corporations to act/acting on behalf of the state, whereas our right tries to use government to act on behalf of the corporations/wealthy.  And, of course, instead of a “Central Committee” there is a more discrete collection of the wealthy operating behind the scenes.  (lolll…and that anonymity is important to them; people might stop buying the stuff their corporations make if only they knew.)

I would note that the PRC’s approach will yield greater longevity to China for all of their corporations are working on behalf of the state/country and by extension, to some extent, the people - while here our right attempts to increase the power of the corporation/wealthy individual at the expense of the state/country/people.  I.e. the system the PRC is developing is synergistic, while what those who are represented by the Republicans seek (and are attaining) is parasitic.

The problem with the “race isn’t a factor” line (beyond it being a clear predictor) is that the Jim Crow laws didn’t have race as a factor, either.  And yet, they were quite successful in racial segregation and oppression.

I wonder what correlation there is in the data between the subject’s race and the attributes that are considered.  I mean, if I see a guy named (real example of a former classmate) “Franswah,” I’m guessing he’s black.  The article refers to an applicant owning a beauty salon?  Probably black.

I’m not suggesting that there’s some guy in Washington assessing “indirect blackness ratings,” but rather that their insistence that race not be a factor combined with the hints of race that peek through might cause things to backfire.

Mind you, I’m not discounting the possibility that a bunch of rich, white bureaucrats are racists.  It’s entirely possible.  But if it were racism, surely someone in Washington would have used that for political gain by now, I would think.

“Obama officials believed changes in the pardon system could be made by executive order. But two years later, pardon reform efforts were dead.”

Err…the Constitution grants the power exclusively to the President, not a team of prosecutors, and he decides how to do it.  If this is what Obama wants, he doesn’t even need an Executive Order.  He just DOES it with no involuntary oversight.

Influencing his successors is problematic, but nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment can do that, really.  Executive Orders aren’t exactly binding.

First, the way I interpret this article is the White House is unaware of the race of the individual seeking the pardon.

Secondly, on the other hand I can find nothing in this article that indicates that the Justice Department’s pardons office is unaware of the individual’s race.  I find it likely that they are in receipt of a “everything there is to know about the individual, the crime, the circumstances of the crime, the justification for the pardon, and corroborating and disputing statements”.

Or as the story puts it:  “Applicants are not asked about their race. But race is listed in many of the law enforcement documents collected for the application, including pre-sentence reports, rap sheets and Federal Bureau of Prisons records.”

Third, racism can sneak in a longgggggggg time before either DOJ or the White House gets involved.  For instance, any correctional officer or warden who crossed paths with the pardon seeker might have tagged their file, for again as the article noted Federal Bureau of Prisons records are a part of the process…

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I’d wager that a prison population survey of the “Club Feds” isn’t going to reveal a bunch of young black kids who - after getting popped because “the war on drugs” is good P/R, keeps a lot of people employed, and moves a lot of narcotics detection kits and equipment - were sent off to play tennis and golf for a few years.

That in turn is going to bias the granting of pardons towards those white (and most likely white) collar criminals who do get sent to “Club Fed”-style institutions where there is little if any prisoner-on-prisoner crime that can result in an innocent man or woman getting defamatory/derogatory verbiage in their prison records as a consequence of defending themselves.

Watch Shawshank Redemption (its a good movie, anyway) which depicts some of the ways in which the innocent can be shafted in the system.  And remember that movie didn’t account for the more recent transformation of conviction and incarceration into profit-driven businesses.

(By which I mean “No, I wouldn’t automatically assume that prison corporations are above paying quotas to guards who generate reasons to extend the incarceration of a prisoner; there doesn’t seem to be any other law Corporate America is unwilling to break.  After all, if they get caught, it’s off to Club Fed!”)


Dec. 6, 2011, 7:52 p.m.

Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex
by Angela Davis

Like most government programs, this one favors those with money and influence.  Couple that members of Congress using their offices to gain preferential treatment of large donors, and you have a very corrupt system.  If the President depends on a group of attorneys to make these decisions for him, that tends to make the system even more corrupt.  just like depending upon a wolf to defend a flock of sheep.

But it looks to me like the central idea of this writer, was to defile Bush’ reputation.  Bush was mentioned over and over, but little was said about others, such as Clinton.  I doubt that one can find an honest, unbiased, journalist today.  Most seem to be socialist in their thinking, and tend to do all they can to aid the liberal Democrats.  And the liberal Democrats are out to ruin our government.

@Lloyd re:  “But it looks to me like the central idea of this writer, was to defile Bush’ reputation.  [...] I doubt that one can find an honest, unbiased, journalist today.  Most seem to be socialist in their thinking, and tend to do all they can to aid the liberal Democrats.”

For starters, making stuff up - editing videotapes and whatnot - is the specialty of the right’s dedicated media organs (for example, the maligning of ACORN that was done in cooperation with Fox’s extremely capable editing staff).  And they have a loophole, anyway:  They’re not journalists, they’re propagandists.

Secondly, you’re jumping at shadows to think that anyone has to make stuff up about Bush.  No journalist in their right mind is going to risk their career manipulating reality simply “to defile Bush’ reputation’”.  Especially not when that effort and risk are made superfluous in consequence of the condemnation of Bush the facts of history demand.

And - at least, if you think like I do - the same goes for Clinton…between inequitable free trade and deregulation, he surely helped the Republicans hit some massive licks on the American people and the United States of America.  But again, nobody has to make that up; not only is it a matter of the Congressional and historical record just as the actions of Bush are, the man is proud of what he did.  (With the caveat, of course, that Clinton apologized to the people of Haiti for inflicting inequitable free trade upon them.)

Clinton had and has a rare capacity to put “the General welfare” of the peoples of other nations ahead of those of the nation he swore to serve when he assumed the Office of the Presidency; me, I can’t decide if that is as bad as or worse than Bush always putting the interests of the 1% ahead of America and our people.  I know, however, that the American people were a little disappointed when Benedict Arnold did that.

But - again - you couldn’t make this stuff up!  Of course the right - the Republicans - would prefer that the American people forget what they always get when they entrust a Republican with power, but any journalist who intentionally helped that to happen would be derelict in their duty to journalism…and America.

(/end pontification)

I’ve made this observation before, but as the ideology that provides the opportunity puts the abundance in cornucopia…

Since the truth is the right’s greatest enemy, anybody who habitually reports the truth ends up being on the receiving end of “compliments” from the right like “I doubt that one can find an honest, unbiased, journalist today.  Most seem to be socialist in their thinking…”.

As NPR and PBS were reviled before them, so now does ProPublica reap the “rewards” the right would give those who would dare to practice old-fashioned, honest journalism.

(And I admit to being so…crude…that I find attempts to label the truth - which is inherently apolitical - as socialistic to be infinitely amusing.)

Whites get more Pardons bacause they have less baggage. This baggage will always haunt minorities as they remain victims of brain washing by the left, the party that has alawys needed them and will always need them to stay down. America !!!! love it or leave it or immigrate here like most people in Africa and else where would like to do.

Whites get more pardons because they have less baggage.

Starting again I really want you to win a Presidential Pardon “but”...

Someone asked why I am not buying into the racist statement ” White’s get most the Presidential Pardon’s and why I say it is a baggage issue” I would phrase it more like this ” Under educated people get less of the Presidential Pardon pie”.

If your going to ask the highest ranking person to pardon you, you first need to asign the blame the buck stops with you. You can’t get caught throwing up smoke screens or being deceptive as the FBI and DOJ will perform there duty in color blind manner but will in the end have a box of documents about you.

Sure minoritys are as grief stricken as whites during this reconstruction of your past life but the FBI and DOJ/Pardon Attorney will perform there duty color blindly and are not villains. They are curious and interested in every pardon and nothing get’s swept under the rug, there is no “Presidential Pardon Scandal” as the Inspector General would be all over it if there was.

So getting back to what I said “baggage and pardons” simply said the less baggage you have the quicker you will be cleared for take off. At the core of any percieved indesparity is the possibly that minorities may lack the training and resources needed in there application making there source document doomed at the starting gate.

To get a Presidential Pardon it helps to be on a team you have to have faith in and trust the people that can help you. It’s a straight foward process and application, you can’t just atempt to tell the truth it’s manitory you make the right choices as the Pardon Attorney will review all of your transcripts again *color blindly *.

We would all like to believe the best about the pardon process and get all of our official explainations and question answered but in the end it is the highest ranking guy Mr. President who will perforn his duty, and some of them in the past have screwed this up bad or have been screwed themselves when a Presidential Pardon has gone wrong, it doesn’t help to relive this however.

There is nothing outragiuos or deceptive about the pardon process and those who have been denied stand a better chance getting pardoned the second time around as they are better informed than most the new applicants. Do not believe it when told race will play a major part involved when requesting a Presidential Pardon but instead be assured is all about those who have learned the most information regaurding the process who will win one.


This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Presidential Pardons

Presidential Pardons: Shades of Mercy

White criminals seeking presidential pardons are nearly four times as likely to succeed as people of color, a ProPublica examination has found.

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