An inspector general’s report finds, again, that the Department of Justice is strangling the pardons process
By Scott Horton
On November 20, 2012, President Obama acceded to the demands of schoolchildren across the nation by issuing commutations to Cobbler and Gobbler. The two turkeys were then transported to George Washington’s estate at Mont Vernon to live out the balance of their lives in federal custody.
But a dark fact shadows this holiday ritual: as it turns out, Cobbler and Gobbler received the only presidential pardons issued in 2012. As presidential authority reaches an historic high-water mark, one of the president’s powers is on the verge of atrophying: that of granting pardons in the interests of justice.
It would be more accurate, however, to say that this power has been strangled by a Justice Department jealous for its own reputation, particularly in relation to doubtful and overzealous prosecutions. A few weeks ago, a report issued by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General concluded that complaints about the pardons office were well founded. The inspector general stated that pardon attorney Ronald L. Rodgers, a Bush-era appointee, had engaged in “conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States,” and recommended a further review for possible disciplinary action.
The IG’s report focuses on the case of Clarence Aaron, a black athlete who played an indirect role in a minor drug transaction and who became the victim of hyperaggressive prosecution and sentencing. While handling the case, Rodgers misrepresented the views of both the United States attorney who made a pardon recommendation and the judge who seconded it, resulting in the pardon’s being denied. Aaron continues to languish in federal prison.