Christmas pardons

There are several weeks remaining in President George W. Bush’s term in the White House, and he could still issue some last-minute, high-profile pardons of political types, such as President Bill Clinton did in his last days in office.

But the 19 pardons and one commuted prison sentence Bush issued just before Christmas involved far less celebrated cases and seemed designed to avoid controversy.

The highest-profile case involved the commuted 30-month prison sentence for Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the case of the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

However, despite the demands of many conservatives that Bush give Libby a full pardon, the president has only commuted Libby’s prison term. As a result, Libby’s conviction will remain on his record and he must still pay a $250,000 fine. He will be on probation for two years.

The most unexpected pardon went to a dead man.

In 1949, Charles Winters, a Miami businessman who was not Jewish, was convicted of violating the federal Neutrality Act for conspiring to export aircraft to the new state of Israel the year before. He helped supply the fledgling Israeli military with three B-17 bombers and flew one of them part way to Israel himself.

Winters died in 1984 and is buried in Jerusalem. Film director Steven Spielberg wrote to Bush seeking a pardon for Winters.

Others on this week’s pardon list included people convicted of everything from drug and gun violations to bank fraud.

David Lane Woolsey of Utah was convicted in 1992 of violating federal law for digging up ancient Indian ruins on public land. He served three years of probation and performed 100 hours of community service. He was surprised to learn he was among those whom Bush pardoned. As Woolsey’s wife, Nadine, put it, the couple is not rich and has no political connections.

We certainly don’t condone pilfering archaeological treasures from public lands. But Woolsey served his sentence rather than running from the law. He seems a much better candidate for a pardon than someone like Marc Rich, the fugitive financier whose wife gave large
contributions to Bill Clinton, whom Clinton pardoned just before leaving the White House.


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