Pardon Requests Flood White House In Obama's Final Weeks The White House is flooded with last-ditch requests for clemency by several prominent applicants including NSA leaker Edward Snowden and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
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Obama Faces Difficult Choices Amid Stream Of Last-Minute Clemency Requests

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Obama Faces Difficult Choices Amid Stream Of Last-Minute Clemency Requests

Obama Faces Difficult Choices Amid Stream Of Last-Minute Clemency Requests

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

People convicted or accused of crimes have flooded the White House with requests for clemency. That typically happens in the final weeks of an administration. This year, some high-profile defendants are hoping to receive President Obama's mercy before he leaves office. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: George W. Bush says the stream of pardon requests that hit his desk in 2008 came as one of the biggest surprises of his presidency. Bush says he was disgusted by how many people used their connections to make personal appeals.

Now President Obama faces the same set of difficult decisions on the way out the door. White House press secretary Josh Earnest recently warned applicants not to get their hopes up.

JOSH EARNEST: He does not expect to essentially ram through any pardons at the last minute. There's an established process, and the president believes that's a process that's worth following.

JOHNSON: And yet there's a long and checkered history for those last-minute clemencies. Bill Clinton's pardon of a fugitive money man Marc Rich launched a federal grand jury investigation.

But for defendants facing decades in prison, there is not much to lose by asking. One of those mounting a last-ditch bid for clemency is NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Snowden's living in Russia under a grant of asylum but under indictment in Virginia.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: The question of whether I as a whistleblower should be pardoned is not for me to answer. But I will say this. I love my country. I love my family. And I have dedicated my life to both of them.

JOHNSON: This month, Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee united to condemn the Snowden leaks, which probably argues against his plea for mercy.

On the other hand, there's the case of Chelsea Manning. Manning's the Army private who leaked a huge trove of military secrets to the website WikiLeaks. She's already served seven years behind bars. ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio says her clemency petition is a matter of life or death.

CHASE STRANGIO: She absolutely will not survive her 35-year sentence. She is a transgender woman in a men's facility. She's already attempted suicide twice and been punished with solitary confinement.

JOHNSON: Two other prominent clemency applicants - Bowe Bergdahl faces court-martial on charges that include desertion after going AWOL in Afghanistan and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, caught in a sweeping public corruption case that includes trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. And then there are some cases tinged with history.

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PETER COYOTE: Leonard Peltier is a Native American activist who's been in prison for 40 years, serving two consecutive life terms for a crime he maintains he did not commit.

JOHNSON: In 1977, Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His case has been championed by Amnesty International, Hollywood celebrities and human rights activists.

But the FBI has opposed any mercy for Peltier. Sixteen years ago, as Bill Clinton was leaving office, agents even marched to the White House in a show of force. Thomas O'Connor, now president of the FBI Agents Association, was one of them.

THOMAS O'CONNOR: We won't allow the Peltier legal and public relations teams to portray him for anything other than what he is, and that's an unremorseful, cold-blooded killer.

JOHNSON: There is one more case from the history books. The adult children of Ethel Rosenberg executed for spying on behalf of Russia in 1953 recently traveled to the White House gates with a special request.

ROBERT MEEROPOL: We're not asking for a pardon. We're asking for an exoneration.

JOHNSON: Her son Robert Meeropol, who was 6 years old when his mother died, described the effort to the NPR program Here & Now. He says his mother's conviction was a perversion of justice, and his case is supported, he says, by documents liberated from archives in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Meeropol says he has little hope President-elect Donald Trump will view the petition favorably. So this may be the last chance for his family. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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