President Trump on Friday commuted the three-plus-years prison sentence of former adviser Roger Stone for misleading Congress, prompting expected outrage from his political detractors. But clemency for politically-connected individuals knows no party monopoly.
As he was leaving office in January 2017, President Barack Obama pardoned his favorite general, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright. Gen. Cartwright had pleaded guilty to a felony count of lying to the FBI about his role in leaking to the press details about a highly classified program to computer-virus-damage Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Obama’s Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Gen. Cartwright worked closely with the White House. He was to be sentenced in early 2017 prior to executive clemency.
The Cartwright pardon was a bit of a policy flip for Mr. Obama, whose administration aggressively hunted down and jailed press leakers. The Obama Justice Department, for example, approved bugging the Associated Press’s Washington bureau to identify and then convict one informant.
Mr. Obama commuted the 35-year sentence of a mega secret documents leaker, former Army private Chelsea Manning, in a move critics say was motivated by LGBT politics. She later unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.
In another move critics say was motivated by politics, Mr. Obama commuted the sentence of convicted Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera. Mr. Lopez-Rivera helped found the violent terrorist group FALN.
NPR reported that FALN between 1974 and 1983 claimed responsibility for more than 70 bombings in New York, Chicago and Washington. In all, five people were killed in those attacks.
Mr. Obama, however, was not treading any new ground when it comes to politically motivated pardons. The politically tinged clemencies issued by his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton were chronicled by law Professor Albert W. Alschuler in a 2010 article for The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
For example, Mr. Clinton pardoned his CIA director, John M. Deutch, who had agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. But Mr. Deutch had not filed a pardon request. What’s more, the White House did not consult with prosecutors prior to issuing the pardon.
Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, in 2016 faced an FBI investigation over mishandling classified documents by storing State.gov emails on her at-home computer server. The Obama Justice Department opted not to file charges.
Perhaps most notable of his acts of clemency, in the waning hours of his presidency on the morning of January 20, 2001, Mr. Clinton granted a full pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was evading arrest aboard and had not faced justice. Mr. Rich’s lawyers also skipped the standard procedure of making a pardon application through the Justice Department, taking their plea for clemency directly to the White House.
Forbes estimated Mr. Rich’s net worth at $1 billion. His ex-wife Denise contributed over $1 million to to the Democratic Party and candidates.
Mr. Clinton also commuted the sentence of mega-drug dealer Carlos Vignali, from 15 years to the completed six years. Mr. Vignali’s father had contributed over $160,000 to the California Democrats. The father also paid Hillary Clinton’s brother, Hugh Rodham, over $200,000 to argue clemency to the White House.
Mr. Clinton also granted a full pardon to his half-brother, Roger Clinton, on a 1980s cocaine distribution conviction.
Mr. Clinton gave a full pardon to Henry Cisneros, his former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and his mistress, Linda Jones. Mr. Cisneros pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
And then, of course, there’s Sandy Berger. There was no need to commute the sentence of Mr. Clinton’s former national security adviser. Berger, who died in 2015, stole classified documents from the National Archives, destroyed them and later lied to investigators. Berger received community service and no jail time.
Perhaps Republican President George W. Bush’s most political clemency was that of Scooter Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. A D.C. jury convicted him of lying to investigators in the Valerie Plame scandal. He received a stiff 30-month prison sentence, commuted by Mr. Bush. President Trump in 2018 pardoned Mr. Libby.
Democrats on Friday condemned Mr. Trump’s Stone commutation which left his conviction intact.
For his part, Attorney General William Barr recently said he believed the conviction and sentence were just.
“Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump presidency,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “There was never any collusion between the Trump campaign, or the Trump administration, with Russia.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller reported in March 2019 that his 22-month probe did not establish a Trump-Russian conspiracy.