Clinton Pardons Rostenkowski, 58 Others

President Clinton granted pardons on Friday to 59 people, including Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee felled by a corruption scandal.

The White House announced that Clinton also issued a pardon to Archie Schaffer III, an Arkansas chicken company executive ensnared in the corruption investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

And he commuted the sentences of three others, including two women entangled in drug cases who got lengthy prison terms because of mandatory sentencing laws, the White House said. Those three brought the total number of presidential clemency grants to 62.

Pleaded Guilty to Mail Fraud

Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of mail fraud and was sentenced to 17 months in prison and $100,000 in fines back in 1996.

It was the final act of a legal and political drama that began two years earlier when prosecutors probed the misuse of taxpayer funds.

Prosecutors said Rostenkowski, long among the most powerful figures in Washington, used public funds to pay employees who did little or no work, and to buy personal gifts.

Rostenkowski’s pardon was a surprise. His name was not among those floating about town in recent weeks as Clinton’s presidency draws to an end.

Others Under Consideration

The pardons are among the acts of presidential clemency that Clinton is weighing over the holidays. Others under consideration include former Wall Street financier Michael Milken and Whitewater figure Susan McDougal.

When pardoned, a person is no longer considered a felon and regains any privileges — such as voting — that might have been denied because of the conviction. It does not, however, mean that the conviction is expunged from the person’s record.

Schaffer, the chief spokesman for the Arkansas-based poultry producer, was convicted by a jury under a 1907 law of trying to influence agricultural policy by arranging for Espy to attend a Tyson birthday party in Arkansas in 1993.

Both Republicans and Democrats in his home state had urged Clinton to pardon Schaffer, arguing the spokesman was convicted under an obscure law by an independent counsel seeking to build a case against Espy. Espy was eventually acquitted.

“I feel great. This is wonderful news,” Schaffer said in a telephone interview from his lawyer’s office in Fayetteville, Ark. “I would have preferred to have been vindicated by the judicial system. We were prepared to continue battling that, but we’re pleased with this outcome as well.”

Broad Support for Pardon

Even the federal judge who oversaw the case said he believed Schaffer was innocent and twice tried to acquit him, only to be reversed by an appeals court.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson reluctantly sentenced Schaffer to a year and one day in prison and a $5,000 fine, the minimum that he said was allowed under the Meat Inspection Act. The extra prison day would have made Schaffer eligible for good-behavior credits that could free him nearly two months early, the judge said.

Besides the pardon pleas, Schaffer supporters wrote nearly 100 letters to Robertson asking that he show leniency. Schaffer, the nephew of former Arkansas governor and U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., served in Bumpers’ administrations and led a business group studying educational reforms during Clinton’s tenure as governor.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Tim Hutchinson, both Republicans, were among those who pleaded with Clinton to pardon Schaffer.

“I think Archie is deserving and that he’s gone through a lot,” Hutchinson said. “I’m pleased with the president’s decision. He’s gone through trial after trial and appeals.”

The sentencing was one of the final items in Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz’s six-year, $23 million investigation of Espy. Jurors acquitted Espy in December 1998.