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The New York Times, November 26, 2008

Bush Issues 14 Pardons and Commutes 2 Sentences
By Eric Lichtblau

WASHINGTON — President Bush granted 14 pardons and commuted two prison sentences on Monday, but the beneficiaries included none of the big names who had become the topic of speculation as Mr. Bush leaves office.

Mr. Bush has been relatively sparing in his use of pardons compared with past presidents, and the latest round of actions continued that pattern.

The closest any of the defendants came to celebrity was John E. Forté, a hip-hop artist and backup singer to Carly Simon who was convicted of aiding and abetting in the distribution of cocaine. (Ms. Simon put up the bail of $250,000 for Mr. Forté when he was arrested in 2001 at Newark International Airport.) Mr. Forté was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but Mr. Bush commuted the remainder of his sentence.

Amid a flurry of recent clemency requests that reached historic levels, a number of high-profile defendants have looked to Mr. Bush for help. They included Michael Milken, the former junk bond king convicted of securities fraud; Marion Jones, the former Olympic sprinter convicted for lying about her use of performance-enhancing drugs; Randy Cunningham, the former California congressman sent to prison in a bribery scheme; and John Walker Lindh, an American who pleaded guilty to serving with the Taliban.

There has also been growing speculation in Washington that Mr. Bush might issue blanket pardons to government officials and intelligence officers who took part in counterterrorism programs like Qaeda interrogations, to protect them from the threat of criminal prosecution.

But none of that came to pass on Monday. Those issued reprieves had been found guilty of mostly garden-variety offenses; one recipient, Leslie O. Collier, was issued a pardon for a 1996 conviction for the unauthorized use of a pesticide in killing bald eagles. Others who received pardons had been convicted of income tax evasion, unauthorized acquisition of food stamps, drug offenses and bank embezzlement, among other offenses.

The Justice Department and the White House offered no comment Monday on why the 16 people given clemency had been selected out of more than 2,000 pending petitions.

Four of the 16 people lived in Texas or were convicted there. There was no initial indication that anyone in the group had been a major donor to Mr. Bush’s campaign or had personal ties to him.

Pardons by presidents leaving office have sometimes created controversy, including ones that President Bill Clinton issued to his brother, Roger, and Marc Rich, the fugitive financier, in 2001 on his last day in office. The Rich pardon was at the center of Congressional and criminal investigations and has become an issue in the expected nomination by President-elect Barack Obama of Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general because of Mr. Holder’s role in it.

Mr. Bush has made relatively infrequent use of the broad clemency power granted to him in the Constitution, issuing 171 pardons and 8 commutations. He has issued fewer than half as many such actions as Mr. Clinton or President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Bush’s most significant clemency came last year, when he commuted the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr., a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, after his conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Mr. Bush has two more months in office to consider further pardons. Until then, “the president will continue to carefully review clemency requests and make determinations on a case by case basis,” said Carlton Carroll, a White House spokesman.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton