Will Bush Pardon High-Profile Figures?

President Bush has less than two months to decide whether to pardon or commute the sentences of some controversial figures, including former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, former White House official Scooter Libby and accused terrorist John Walker Lindh.

The president, who has a nearly unfettered constitutional power to pardon, has used it sparingly. He has granted fewer than 200 of 10,000 petitions filed in the past eight years.

Last week, Bush granted 14 pardons, but the list comprised little-known figures and made no mention of high-profile individuals who have formally petitioned the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney. These figures include:

Former Gov. George Ryan, R-Ill., convicted of fraud in 2006

Former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion, among other violations, in 2006

John Walker Lindh, captured during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, who is serving 20 years for providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Michael Milken, former junk bond salesman convicted on securities fraud charges.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, D-La., who was convicted of racketeering in 2000.

Bypassing the DOJ Pardon System

The Justice Department has a complex system to handle the thousands of requests that come in each year.

Under department guidelines, a person is not eligible to file a pardon request with the department until five years after his release from jail, or the date of conviction if there was no condition of confinement. However, the rules are not binding on the president who retains the authority under the Constitution to pardon someone who has not even applied for reprieve.

This has led to speculation that the president might decide to pardon former government officials such as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, who was found guilty of lying to federal investigators in the Valerie Plame case. Bush has already commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence, but a pardon would act as an official statement of forgiveness. Libby's lawyers declined to comment.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, recently convicted on federal corruption charges, has not ruled out asking the president for a pardon.

Neither Libby nor Stevens has filed a formal application with the Department of Justice.

Because the Justice Department process is so complex, often offenders will attempt to find surrogates to circumvent the process all together and make a direct plea to the president.

For example, on Monday Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wrote a letter asking the president to commute the sentence of Ryan, the former Illinois governor, who is serving a 6½-year term in federal prison.

Durbin told reporters that he was not asking for a pardon of the 74-year-old Ryan, saying, "no one can or should excuse his official misconduct," but a commutation of his sentence, which would allow him to leave prison and return to his ailing wife.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among other congressmen, has publicly urged the president to commute the sentences of two former Border Patrol agents who were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler who was attempting to enter the United States. The men, Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, are currently serving sentences in excess of a decade.

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