WASHINGTON – Historically stingy with granting pardons, President George W. Bush is facing a flood of requests for presidential pardons or sentence commutations on his way out of the White House.
Junk-bond king Michael Milken, media mogul Conrad Black and American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh are among more than 2,000 people who have applied to the Justice Department seeking official forgiveness.
But with Bush’s term ending Jan. 20, some lawyers are lobbying the White House directly to pardon their clients. That raises the possibility that the president could excuse scores of people, including some who have not been charged, to protect them from future accusations, such as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or star baseball pitcher Roger Clemens.
Those who have worked with Bush predict that will not happen.
“I would expect the president’s conservative approach to executive pardons to continue through the remainder of his term,” said Helgi C. Walker, a former Bush associate White House counsel.
Last week, Bush issued 14 pardons and commuted two sentences – all for small-time crimes. That brought his eight-year total to 171 pardons and eight commutations granted. That is less than half as many as President Bill Clinton or President Ronald Reagan issued.
Under the Constitution, the president’s power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled.
Margaret Love, former Justice Department pardon attorney under Clinton, said Bush has never seemed interested in flexing his power to pardon.
“There’s no reason to think based on the pattern of his grants to date that there are going to be any irregularities or surprises at the end of his term,” Love said.