Record Numbers Seeking Bush Pardons

Unlike other controversial pardons, Krent said the extent of any potential illegal activity in the Bush Administration is not known. "We, as a society, lose the benefit from the closure and mere transparency that comes through a criminal trial," he said.

A White House spokesman would not comment on whether preemptive pardons were under consideration.

Process of Presidential Pardons

A pardon is an official act of forgiveness that removes civil liabilities stemming from a criminal conviction, while a commutation reduces or eliminates a person's sentence.

The Justice Department, which makes recommendations to the president about who should receive clemency, said it had not received applications from other high-profile convicts such as Jack Abramoff, Martha Stewart, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was recently convicted of lying on financial disclosure forms, or I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, who was convicted last year of perjury and obstruction of justice. Bush commuted Libby's sentence in July.

The president has the power to grant pardons or commutations on his own, even if felons have not applied through the Department of Justice.

Regardless of what happens to members of the Bush administration and high-profile figures like Libby, there are still thousands of largely unknown people seeking pardons or reduced prison sentence.

Critics say Bush has largely ignored his power to correct what they see as the excesses of a rigid criminal justice system -- what Alexander Hamilton called cases of "unfortunate guilt" -- and that large backlogs have meant that some clemency applications have lingered in the Department of Justice and the White House for years before action is taken.

"I think it's an absolute disgrace the way Democratic and Republican administrations, the Bush Administration apparently being the worst, have departed from giving many commutations and pardons except in political cases," said Phillip Heymann, a former Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton White House who now teaches at Harvard Law School. "I think it would be wonderful if we tore up everything to do with pardons and started over and made it a classy operation, with people carefully going over applications."

Current and former government officials say the backlog is causing long delays. Margaret Love, the U.S. Pardon Attorney from 1991 to 1997 who now represents people seeking pardons, said the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which makes recommendations to the president about who should receive clemency, is moving through cases without reviewing them in the same detail that it used to.

Love said many of her clients are no longer being referred by the office for an FBI background investigation, one of the initial steps for potentially promising pardon applications. She said she has clients who are awaiting decisions on applications filed during the Clinton Administration.

"They are denying people who meet the standards without an investigation," she said. "I cant get them to first base."

Ronald Rogers, the U.S. Pardon Attorney, declined to be interviewed. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment other than to refer to 2001 congressional testimony from Roger Adams, the former pardon attorney.

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