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On Clemency, Better Luck Next Time

From CBS News Producer Stephanie Lambidakis:

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
On Monday, January 19th -- as political observers engaged in the "pardon watch" ritual that accompanies the last fevered hours of an administration -- the Justice Department announced the final acts of clemency from President George Bush.

The president granted no pardons, but he did commute the sentences of two high-profile figures on the watch list, Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, former Border Patrol agents whose 10-year convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer drew howls of protest, especially among conservatives who called the sentences too harsh.

But as Mr. Bush was bestowing those grants of clemency, he was actively rejecting the clemency pleas from six high-profile (and notorious) figures convicted of a wide range of crimes. The Justice Department has now made those clemency denials public.

They include former Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an 8-year prison sentence for reaping huge riches from defense contractors; former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who is now 81; John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban whose lawyers have filed several clemency petitions in efforts to have his 20-year prison sentence commuted; Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist serving life in prison for killing two FBI agents in 1977; former Congressman Mario Biaggi; and the "junk bond king" Michael Milken, whose clemency petition has been denied both by Bill Clinton and George Bush. Just before Christmas, Mr. Bush also rejected a clemency petition from Justin Volpe, a former New York City police officer convicted in the brutal assault of Abner Louima.

The Justice Department disclosed something else as well: Mr. Bush took no action on clemency requests from four other high-profile names: "Telecom cowboy" Bernie Ebbers, who drove his Mercedes to begin serving his 20-year prison sentence for the Worldcom implosion; Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel; media magnate Conrad Black, serving more than 12 years for commiting "corporate kleptocracy" from the Hollinger Corporation; and Former Illinois Governor George Ryan, who received 200 letters of support from family members and friends who want Ryan released after two years of a six year sentence.

The Justice Department says it released the names in response to news media inquiries, but in previous years, the rejections came in the form of numbers on a chart - not faces and names of convicted corporate crooks and crooked politicians whose crimes are still very much in the public's mind.

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