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Stevens Case Puts Spotlight on Pardons

President Bush has three months left to issue his final round of pardons, a process that could bring him to consider whether to forgive a list of administration officials, soldiers and operatives engaged in the war on terror — and even just-convicted Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Bush has been relatively parsimonious in exercising the vaunted presidential prerogative to absolve convicted criminals of their sins under the law, issuing only 157 pardons and six commutations of sentences during nearly eight years in office. And the pardons Bush has made have come only after defendants served their full terms, a move that frequently amounts to granting them the power to vote and bear firearms.

By contrast, President Bill Clinton issued 140 pardons in just one day — his final in office — famously forgiving Mark Rich, the husband of a major contributor to his library, as well as friend and former business associate Susan McDougal, former House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), and his own brother Roger, who had served time on drug charges.

The White House did not return a call seeking comment for this story, but Bush aides routinely reject requests for information about whom Bush is considering pardoning or what decision he is likely to make.

Stevens has been defiant in the face of his conviction Monday on seven counts of filing false financial statements, proclaiming his innocence and charging prosecutorial misconduct. It presumably would be difficult for Bush to pardon someone for crimes he does not admit to having committed. But if the Senator loses his re-election bid and faces the prospect of a Democratic president, it is possible that the soon-to-be 85-year-old would seek a get-out-of-jail-free card from the president.

Whether Bush’s strong sense of loyalty could lead him to consider pardons for former administration and military officials is unclear. But Bush did pardon a host of officials from the Reagan administration, wiping clean the records of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other individuals involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

Much speculation has centered on whether Bush will pardon Vice President Cheney’s former aide Scooter Libby, convicted of obstruction of justice in the federal investigation of the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence on July 2, 2007, keeping him out of jail but maintaining an assessed fine of $250,000 and a sentence of two years supervised release. But Bush did not pardon Libby. He may yet. Bush could — in the manner of President Gerald Ford’s pardon of President Richard Nixon — decide to issue pre-emptive pardons for crimes that may have been committed in some cases. For example, the investigation continues into whether improper political influence was brought to bear in the firing of U.S. attorneys in 2006, and there has been speculation that Bush might pardon former political aide Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers for any role they may have played in the matter. Neither has been charged with a crime, nor is there any indication they will be. An attorney for Rove recently suggested his client did nothing wrong. Bush may also consider pardoning two border control agents who shot an unarmed man in the buttocks who was trying to enter the country with a large cache of marijuana. The two were given 11 and 12 years in prison and immediately became a cause célèbre for advocates of tough immigration control measures and others who believed the sentences too severe.

Bush may also consider pardoning soldiers convicted of various charges stemming from their activities at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Some have also suggested he should pardon CIA agents who possibly engaged in torture while interrogating terrorism suspects.

Several others in his administration have been convicted of crimes, including former General Services Administration Chief of Staff David Safavian, who was linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who now sits in jail. Perhaps the most compelling case of the lot is former White House domestic policy chief Claude Allen, who pleaded guilty in a bizarre case in which he was effectively stealing from a Target store.

But unless Bush wants to thumb his nose at the current wave anti-lobbyist sentiment — and wants to invite an uproar reminiscent of that which accompanied the final-day Clinton pardons — Bush is probably not likely to pardon Abramoff himself, who became a symbol of greed in Washington.

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