Yesterday, the Justice Department's Inspector General released a stunning new report finding that current pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers mishandled the commutation petition of Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender who is serving a life-without-parole sentence. Commutation is the only way Aaron might ever rejoin society. His commutation petition was denied in 2008, after Rodgers inaccurately reported the extent of the support for Aaron's release to the White House.
Read FAMM's press release on this shocking story here.
Why would the pardon attorney, whose job is to advise the president on which federal prisoners deserve clemency, misrepresent the fact that Aaron's sentencing judge and the U.S. Attorney supported his release? According to the report and a new article by Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post, it appears that Rodgers just didn't want Aaron to get out:
Rodgers’s advice to the president, the inspector general concluded, “was colored by his concern . . . that the White House might grant Aaron clemency presently and his desire that this not happen.” The report includes excerpts of e-mails Rodgers sent to another Justice Department official expressing hope that Aaron’s request be denied.
“The details that emerge from this report about the way the Justice Department handled my client’s case shock me,” said Aaron’s attorney, Margaret Love. “Justice is long overdue for Clarence Aaron, and I hope the president will take immediate action to free him.”In the Post article, FAMM President Julie Stewart calls for Rodgers' resignation -- which so far is not forthcoming:
Rodgers, a career civil servant and former military judge, took over the pardons office in 2008. Despite calls for his resignation, he has remained in office. Nearly all pardon recipients are preselected by Rodgers, and he personally reviews each application from federal inmates seeking early release. Under his leadership, denial recommendations have soared while pardons have been rarely granted.
Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in July that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had full confidence in Rodgers. Hornbuckle declined to reiterate that support Tuesday. He said that Holder’s deputy, James Cole, was reviewing the inspector general’s findings and that “further comment would not be appropriate.” The Justice Department declined requests for interviews with Cole or Rodgers.
The White House relies almost exclusively on Rodgers in deciding whom the president will forgive or release from prison. Asked whether the president also has confidence in Rodgers’s advice, the White House declined to comment. ...
“Rodgers has to go,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “No one, least of all the president, can have any confidence that this pardon attorney is giving the president the unbiased information he needs to make clemency decisions.”Commutation grants have become virtually nonexistent in recent years, but thousands of requests have been denied. To date, President Obama has only granted one. How can he do more when his Office of the Pardon Attorney fails to give him good advice about those who deserve second chances?
For the sake of the pardon power, the presidency, the public, and prisoners like Clarence, it's high time that the Office of the Pardon Attorney be reformed.