Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
WHY DIDN’T PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH
PARDON EDWIN EDWARDS?
by Jim Brown
For months, political insiders in both Louisiana and Washington had been predicting that former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards would be pardoned by President George Bush in the final weeks of his term in office. There were a number of signs to give the former governor and his supporters high hopes. Key political figures in both parties had petitioned the White House in behalf of a pardon. But as the final hours of the Bush presidency came to an end, no pardon was signed.
Former Louisiana Gov. Dave Treen had made it almost a mission in life to get Edwards released. He had written and made numerous calls to the White House, and personally lobbied the older and younger President Bush. A number of other key political operatives of both parties also actively join the effort. Some months ago, I was told by both a former high-ranking member of the Louisiana congressional delegation, as well as one of the major Republican fund raisers for the President that Bush had contacted each of them and gave assurance that before he left office, Edwin Edwards would have his sentence commuted to time served. That would allow him to be immediately freed from prison.
The now former president had been quite stingy with his pardoning power during his two terms in office. He granted less than 250 pardons out of more than 10,000 requests. This was the lowest number granted by any president who served in the past century. So he wasn’t one to give favors to begin with.
Bush’s pardon list also does not include many high-profile cases. The pardon docket was loaded with well-known controversial figures who, in many instances, hired high-priced former Bush staffers willing to plead their case. Besides Edwards, other well known applicants included:
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan – He was convicted of political corruption in 2006, and is presently serving a 6 1/2 year sentence. Both Ryan and his wife are in ill health, and were strongly supported in their pardon efforts by members of the Illinois congressional delegation.
Former Republican congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham from California – He pled guilty in 2005 to conspiracy and tax evasion, and is serving an eight-year sentence. He presently has prostrate cancer.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr. – He was the former White House chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, and was convicted of making false statements and perjury. Bush commuted his sentence some months ago, but a number of staffers in the White House were hoping that Libby would get a full pardon before Bush left office.
Former junk bond king Michael Milken – He pled guilty in 1992 to six tax and securities-related felonies, and served 22 months in prison. He has been involved in extensive philanthropy in the past 15 years, giving millions of dollars for cancer research. Many thought Milken was a slam-dunk to be pardoned.
The one exception in considering controversial cases was the commutation of two former US border patrol agents in Texas. They were two guards from El Paso and were sentenced to more than 10 years in jail for shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler in the back as he was fleeing across the Rio Grande. The agents went on to cover up the crime, hiding their shotgun casings in the river to hide the evidence. There was strong conservative support for commuting the sentences of these two agents, particularly from Bush’s home state of Texas. Justice Department officials were quoted in the Los Angeles times as saying that Bush made a mistake. “There was obstruction of justice, and they shot a man in the back. I’m speechless. These are terrible clemency cases.”
Why was George Bush so reluctant to pardon a number of people who he had been close to in public life? Bill Clinton, as we saw, would have pardoned many of those who requested it in a New York second. But that had to be the problem. Clinton was castigated from the day he left office, and still receives criticism over his wide ranging list of pardons granted in the waning days of his presidency.
Edwards was just one of many high profile and controversial pardon requests Bush had to consider. He wasn’t willing to take the heat and go through all the second guessing that Clinton still faces today. As should be expected, Blush is concerned about his dwindling legacy. His popularity as he leaves office is lower than any president in recorded history.
Edwin Edwards got caught in the weight of just too many high profile requests. In the final days of his presidency, Bush’s key aides no doubt told him to “punt” on the Edwards commutation, and let him serve the additional 2 1/2 years. Bill Clinton would have pardoned Edwards, and he still may have a shot with the new democratic president. After all, the federal guidelines in the Edwards case called for a five-year sentence, and the judge gave him 10. He has served six years so far, so his release date (serving the required 85% of the sentence) is June of 2010.
So what does retiring George Bush say to many of his own strong supporters who he had given assurances to that Edwards would be pardoned? Simple. He can go back in Louisiana history and find solace in the comments of former Louisiana Gov. Earl Long. When Uncle Earl was serving as the state’s chief executive back in the 1950s, he decided to renege on a campaign promise to a group of loyal supporters in a deep South Louisiana parish. One of Long’s key aides reminded the Governor that he had given his word, and asked what he should tell this group who wanted an answer. Long didn’t miss a beat: “Just look them in the eye, and tell them I lied.”
|“The folly which we might have ourselves committed is the one which we are least ready to pardon in another.”|
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com. Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. . Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.