Three days from the end of his term, Barack Obama used his clemency power to commute sentences for a notorious terrorist, and an even more notorious source for a website that Obama has spent the past two months attacking as a Russian intelligence front or stooge. What does the outgoing president plan for an encore? What could possibly be more controversial than this round of clemency actions?
I don’t know, but … we’re about to find out:
In a last-minute flurry of orders, Obama commuted sentences for 209 people and issued 64 pardons. Aides said he will commute substantially more on Thursday, the day before he leaves office and Donald Trump is inaugurated.
Normally, one would expect outgoing presidents to make the most controversial pardons at the last minute. Other clemency actions of less controversy would already have taken place sometime over the last eight years, and certainly since the 2014 midterm elections, the last time Obama’s pardons and commutations could have had a direct electoral impact. Bill Clinton held off on the notorious pardon for fugitive and major Democratic donor Marc Rich until the morning of George W. Bush’s inauguration, for instance, perhaps hoping the news would get buried in the inaugural coverage.
With that in mind, it seems at least somewhat likely that we’ll see clemency actions that will generate even more controversy than in this round. So who else might benefit from Obama’s sense of mercy (or politics) that would be more controversial than Chelsea Manning and Oscar Lopez? These names come to mind:
- David Petraeus – This one would make sense in light of the pardon for James Cartwright. Petraeus also served Obama well, and has much more to contribute to national security after learning a lesson (we hope) from his indiscreet affair. This would be relatively uncontroversial, so much so that one might wonder why Obama hasn’t already pardoned Petraeus. The answer: He never asked for a pardon.
- Edward Snowden – After all of the screeching over the DNC hack, it would seem almost impossible for Obama to forgive the man who stole highly classified NSA information and handed it off to Wikileaks while absconding to Russia, but … that’s what we said about Manning, too. Obama and the White House tried to emphasize that Manning served over six years in prison and admitted guilt to rationalize his release, but that’s not the case with Snowden. If Obama pardons Snowden, Democrats will need to shut up about Russia.
- Julian Assange – Assange has problems with the US and Sweden, so an Obama pardon will only solve some of his problems, and may not even get him out of the Ecuadorian embassy. Supposedly he will surrender to the US after the Manning commutation, but, er … don’t hold your breath on that one. Assange gets the same support on the Left as Snowden — or at least he did until the DNC hack — and now some on the Right are just as inexplicably enamored of Assange. A pardon will also kill the Democrats’ Russia narrative, but commuting Manning’s sentence mortally wounded it already.
- Bowe Bergdahl – Obama’s already made light of espionage with Manning’s commutation, and terrorism with Lopez’. Why not make light of desertion with a Bergdahl pardon?
- Leonard Peltier – A cause celebre on the Left for decades, the biggest surprise is that it’s taken this long for his name to emerge on a lest of potential clemency actions. Hollywood is very big on Peltier, but the FBI is adamantly opposed to releasing someone who murdered two of its agents and is serving two consecutive life sentences for those crimes. When it looked like Bill Clinton was about to commute Peltier’s sentence, the FBI marched to the White House in protest.
- Ethel Rosenberg – Her children want a presidential pardon and exoneration from her conviction of espionage. It’s a little late for Ethel, of course, but this is another Hollywood cause, and even though more evidence has emerged of her involvement, it’s not clear that Ethel was in as deep as her husband Julius.
- Hillary Clinton – Last and least deserving of a pardon, in large part because she keeps insisting that she’s as pure as the driven snow, which she wipes with a cloth. Hillary hasn’t asked for a pardon and Donald Trump sounds much more diffident about pursuing a prosecution, but Hillary’s scandal was also Obama’s. He may not want any more probing into his own administration. The bonus on this will be that it kills the Clintons’ political power once and for all.
If I was a betting man, I’d guess that we’ll see at least three of these names on the clemency list on Thursday. And if I was to bet further, I’d guess that those names will be Clinton, Peltier, and Snowden.
Update: Matt Stock on Twitter offers up another potential beneficiary of Obama’s clemency — Mumia Abu-Jamal. Some on the Left claim he’s a political prisoner, but he’s a cop killer who managed to work his way off of death row. Obama adviser Van Jones is a Mumia supporter, and it wasn’t all that long ago that Obama tried to appoint Debo Adegbile to the DoJ until Senate Democrats balked at his free-Mumia activism. This one looks like a real possibility — and one that would have definitely been held off until the final few hours. However, Mumia was convicted at the state level, not federal, as other Twitter followers have pointed out, so … he’s off the list, unless Obama wants a fight over jurisdiction on his way out the door.