President Obama is Very Cautious on Pardons

(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

President Obama would “very rarely, if ever” grant pardons for major drug offenses and gun crimes, according to White House memos on his executive clemency policy that reveal a cautious approach to his pardon power.

Those memos, obtained by USA TODAY, may partly explain Obama’s historically infrequent use of his constitutional power to grant pardons. But even as Obama has “revamped” the pardon office in an effort to get more pardon applications, his official policy on granting pardons has remained unchanged.

That policy, outlined in a 2010 memo from the White House counsel, was largely modeled after the policy of President George W. Bush, outlining six categories of crimes for which clemency would be rarely granted.

Indeed, Obama kept Bush’s 2001 pardon policy in place for the first 18 months of his presidency, before issuing his own guidance to the Office of Pardon Attorney in July 2010.

Critics of Obama’s lackluster use of the pardon say that 2010 memo shows Obama shouldn’t be surprised at the recommendations he’s getting from the Justice Department office that screens pardon applications.

“It’s a memo that comes out 18 months after you take the oath, and that essentially tweaks a prior memo form a prior administration that no one thinks was doing a great job in this respect,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University. “And then it takes you four more years to figure out that you’re not getting the cases you want to get? Well, you’re not really looking.”

But the White House says Obama has an “ongoing commitment” to issuing clemency and plans to review more requests in the coming months. Obama most recently shortened the sentences of 22 people convicted of drug crimes.

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SOURCE: Gregory Korte
USA TODAY