RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And as he prepares to leave office, President Bush is offering some relief to those convicted of wrongdoing. He's been issuing pardons, including 19 yesterday. One went posthumously to Charles Winters, who did prison time for illegally supplying three airplanes to Israeli independence forces back 1948. Past presidents have sometimes stirred controversy in granting clemency. So far President Bush has avoided that. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The clemency announcements were typical for Mr. Bush. Just 19 people pardoned. One other gets his sentence commuted. None of them is well-known. Their offenses date from years or even decades ago. Mr. Bush has used the clemency power far less than any other recent president, and yesterday's list may be it for Mr. Bush. It's possible he could leave office in 27 days without giving clemency to anyone else. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, wants Congress to tell him not to.
JERROLD NADLER: I introduced the resolution saying there shouldn't be pardons. Really it's a shot across the administration's bow. If he is insistent on pardoning people, we can't do anything to stop him.
OVERBY: That's because even if a congressional resolution is adopted, it only advises. It doesn't compel. Liberals and some conservatives wonder if there are preemptive pardons in store for administration officials who push the constitutional envelope but who haven't been charged with anything. Nadler ticks through his list of what administration officials did.
NADLER: Claimed immense monarchical powers for the executive, engaged in torture and warrantless and illegal wiretapping, they claimed the power to hold any American citizen in jail forever with no hearing, no warrants.
OVERBY: By this theory, one possible beneficiary of a pardon would be Vice-president Dick Cheney. In a recent interview with ABC News, he defended waterboarding as an interrogation technique, not torture, and said he had supported using it.
DICK CHENEY: I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, whether it's somehow we violated the constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance programs, simply don't know what they're talking about.
OVERBY: Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted in the Valerie Plame affair. That was the leak of Plame's identity as a CIA operative during debate over the Iraq war. Mr. Bush quickly commuted Libby's sentence. Conservative consultant Craig Shirley doesn't expect Libby will see his record wiped clean now with a pardon. Shirley says Libby has been lobbying conservatives for support.
CRAIG SHIRLEY: It hasn't worked. Nobody in the conservative community has ever viewed him as one of the true believers.
OVERBY: Shirley predicts that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales won't be pardoned either, for the same reason. And he's skeptical of the big theory that Mr. Bush would use any pardons to protect his legacy. Shirley says it wouldn't work, not with the Iraq war, and not with big government spending to rescue Wall Street and Detroit.
SHIRLEY: So, he's got all these things that are already stains on his reputation.
OVERBY: Still if Mr. Bush does have some surprise clemencies on tap, he wouldn't be the first president to do so. As President Bill Clinton headed out the door in 2001, he pardoned nearly as many people as Mr. Bush has in eight years. One big name was Marc Rich, a fugitive financier whose ex-wife was a big Democratic donor. People who'd been entangled in political scandals also got pardoned. And before that Mr. Bush's father gave Christmas Eve pardons to former officials indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, a case that also could have touched the elder President Bush himself. Dan Kobil teaches at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. He says recent presidents have trivialized their clemency power, using it for minor cases and politics.
DAN KOBIL: But not very frequently to remedy injustices in sentencing that are prevalent in our current system of mandatory minimums in our system that has wide disparities.
OVERBY: And so far in his eight years, those are issues that Mr. Bush hasn't touched either. Peter Overby NPR News, Washington.
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