On the last full day of his presidency, George W. Bush steered clear of issuing pardons for controversial figures such as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former Chief of Staff of Vice President Cheney. Instead, he commuted the sentences of two former Texas border patrol agents who were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler.
The former agents, Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, were sentenced in excess of 11 years in 2008 for their role in the shooting of Mexican citizen Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks and then trying to cover it up. Aldrete-Davila was fleeing a vehicle which was stuffed with over 700 pounds of marijuana.
Aldrete-Davila later pleaded guilty to separate smuggling charges.
"I am elated that the President has done the right thing in granting a commutation," said David Botsford, a lawyer for Ramos.
According to the terms of commutation, the men will be released from prison on March 20, 2009.
A White House spokesman said that President Bush does not plan to grant more pardons or commutations in the remaining hours of his administration.
According to a White House official, the President thought the Ramos and Compean received fair trials and just verdicts, but that their sentences were too harsh, and that the men and their families had suffered enough.
Additionally, the official pointed out that their cause had received support from Capitol Hill, with lawmakers from both parties agreeing that a commutation was appropriate.
Several high-profile individuals, including former Gov. George Ryan, R-Ill., junk bond king Michael Milken and the so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, had all filed applications seeking clemency.
Speculation had also swirled that Bush might choose to issue a preemptive pardon to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is under investigation for his role in firing at least nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.
Gonzales resigned in 2007 after months of criticism that the prosecutors had been terminated because of improper political considerations. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a career prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, to conduct further investigation into the matter.
Bush could have also granted a sweeping amnesty for unnamed former military or intelligence officers who might be vulnerable to prosecution for their role in carrying out interrogations of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and abroad.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has reportedly asked Bush to forgive the recent conviction of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on corruption charges.
Bush has used his pardon power sparingly, granting less than 200 out of over 10,000 requests during his administration.
That is in sharp contrast to former president Bill Clinton who's last day in office when he issued 141 pardons and 36 commutations, including the controversial pardons for his brother, Roger Clinton, fugitive financier Marc Rich and Clinton's former business associate Susan McDougal. During his presidency, Clinton received more than 7400 requests for clemency; he chose to grant more than 450.
Last month Bush granted, and then unexpectedly revoked a controversial pardon of Isaac R. Toussie who had pleaded guilty to mail fraud and lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A White House spokesman explained the reversal by saying that information had come to light that had caused the president to change his mind. The White House admitted that the President had not known that Toussie's father had contributed $28,500 to the Republican Party earlier in the year.
Only a handful of the applications come from well -known figures. Hundreds of others are hoping their applications will get the president's attention.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among other congressmen, had publicly urged the president to commute the sentences of Compean and Ramos.