WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush has granted pardons to 14 individuals and commuted the prison sentences of two others, including a rapper, convicted of misdeeds ranging from drug offenses to tax evasion, from wildlife violations to bank embezzlement, The Associated Press learned Monday.
The new round of White House pardons are Bush’s first since March and come less than two months before he will end his presidency. The crimes committed by those on the list also include offenses involving hazardous waste, food stamps, and the theft of government property.
Not on the pardon list is Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and perjury during an investigation into the leaking of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence.
Bush has been stingy during his time in office about handing out reprieves.
Including these actions, he has granted a total of 171 and eight commutations. That’s less than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their time in office. Both were two-term presidents.
On the latest pardon list were:
—Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo. She was convicted for unauthorized use of a pesticide and violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
—Milton Kirk Cordes of Rapid City, S.D. Cordes was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits importation into the country of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws.
—Richard Micheal Culpepper of Mahomet, Ill., who was convicted of making false statements to the federal government.
—Brenda Jean Dolenz-Helmer of Fort Worth, Texas, for reporting or helping cover up a crime.
—Andrew Foster Harley of Falls Church, Va. Harley was convicted of wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine.
—Obie Gene Helton of Rossville, Ga., whose offense was unauthorized acquisition of food stamps.
—Carey C. Hice Sr. of Travelers Rest, S.C., who was convicted of income tax evasion.
—Geneva Yvonne Hogg of Jacksonville, Fla., convicted of bank embezzlement.
—William Hoyle McCright Jr. of Midland, Texas, who was sentenced for making false entries, books, reports or statements to a bank.
—Paul Julian McCurdy of Sulphur, Okla., who was sentenced for misapplication of bank funds.
—Robert Earl Mohon Jr. of Grant, Ala., who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
—Ronald Alan Mohrhoff of Los Angeles, who was convicted for unlawful use of a telephone in a narcotics felony.
—Daniel Figh Pue III of Conroe, Texas, convicted of illegal treatment, storage and disposal of a hazardous waste without a permit.
—Orion Lynn Vick of White Hall, Ark., who was convicted of aiding and abetting the theft of government property.
Bush also commuted the prison sentences of John Edward Forte of North Brunswick, N.J., and James Russell Harris of Detroit, Mich. Both were convicted of cocaine offenses.
Forte, a well-known hip hop artist, worked with the Fugees, Wyclef Jean and Herbie Hancock.
Pardon orders never give a reason, but NBC News' Pete Williams reported that in Forte's case, it is likely the mandatory minimum sentences required in drug cases. Here's how fans of Forte's put it on a Web site dedicated to him:
"John Forte's life was forever changed in July of 2000. He agreed to transport a package, and in turn was arrested on a drug trafficking charge. He did not accept the plea bargain offered him, as he maintained that he was innocent of the charges against him.
"In 2001, John Forté stood trial in a Texas court and was convicted of this non-violent crime. It was his first offense. Due to the outdated mandatory minimum sentencing laws currently in place, he received the only prison term available for the judge to hand down — 14 years in a federal penitentiary. John is not eligible to be released until he is at least 38 years old."
Under the Constitution, the president’s power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled.
Some high-profile individuals, such as Michael Milken, are seeking a pardon on securities fraud charges. Two politicians convicted of public corruption — former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., and four-term Democratic Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards — are asking Bush to shorten their prison terms.
One hot topic of discussion related to pardons is whether Bush might decide to issue pre-emptive pardons before he leaves office to government employees who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some constitutional scholars and human rights groups want the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to investigate possible war crimes.
If Bush were to pardon anyone involved, it would provide protection against criminal charges, particularly for people who were following orders or trying to protect the nation with their actions. But it would also be highly controversial.
At the same time, Obama advisers say there is little — if any — chance that his administration would bring criminal charges