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No Pardon for Louisiana Governor

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Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



For months, political insiders in both Louisiana and Washington had been predicting that former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards would be pardoned by President George Bush in the final weeks of his term in office. There were a number of signs to give the former governor and his supporters high hopes. Key political figures in both parties had petitioned the White House in behalf of a pardon. But as the final hours of the Bush presidency came to an end, no pardon was signed.

Former Louisiana Gov. Dave Treen had made it almost a mission in life to get Edwards released. He had written and made numerous calls to the White House, and personally lobbied the older and younger President Bush. A number of other key political operatives of both parties also actively join the effort. Some months ago, I was told by both a former high-ranking member of the Louisiana congressional delegation, as well as one of the major Republican fund raisers for the President  that Bush  had contacted each of them and gave assurance that before he  left office, Edwin Edwards would have his sentence commuted to time served. That would allow him to be immediately freed from prison.

The now former president had been quite stingy with his pardoning power during his two terms in office. He granted less than 250 pardons out of more than 10,000 requests. This was the lowest number granted by any president who served in the past century. So he wasn’t one to give favors to begin with.

Bush’s pardon list also does not include many high-profile cases. The pardon docket was loaded with well-known controversial figures who, in many instances, hired high-priced former Bush staffers willing to plead their case. Besides Edwards, other well known applicants included:

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan ““ He was convicted of political corruption in 2006, and is presently serving a 6 1/2 year sentence. Both Ryan and his wife are in ill health, and were strongly supported in their pardon efforts by members of the Illinois congressional delegation.

Former Republican congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham from California – He pled guilty in 2005 to conspiracy and tax evasion, and is serving an eight-year sentence. He presently has prostate cancer.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr. – He was the former White House chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, and was convicted of making false statements and perjury. Bush commuted his sentence some months ago, but a number of staffers   in the White House were hoping that Libby would get a full pardon before Bush left office.

Former junk bond king Michael Milken – He pled guilty in 1992 to six tax and securities-related felonies, and served 22 months in prison. He has been involved in extensive philanthropy in the past 15 years, giving millions of dollars for cancer research. Many thought Milken was a slam-dunk to be pardoned.

The one exception in considering controversial cases was the commutation of two former US border patrol agents in Texas.  They were two guards from El Paso and were sentenced to more than 10 years in jail for shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler in the back as he was fleeing across the Rio Grande. The agents went on to cover up the crime, hiding their shotgun casings in the river to hide the evidence. There was strong conservative support for commuting the sentences of these two agents, particularly from Bush’s home state of Texas. Justice Department officials were quoted in the Los Angeles times as saying that Bush made a mistake. “There was obstruction of justice, and they shot a man in the back. I’m speechless. These are terrible clemency cases.”

Why was George Bush so reluctant to pardon a number of people who he had been close to in public life? Bill Clinton, as we saw, would have pardoned many of those who requested it in a New York second. But that had to be the problem. Clinton was castigated from the day he left office, and still receives criticism over his wide ranging list of pardons granted in the waning days of his presidency.

Edwards was just one of many high profile and controversial pardon requests Bush had to consider.  He wasn’t willing to take the heat and go through all the second guessing that Clinton still faces today.  As should be expected, Blush is concerned about his dwindling legacy.  His popularity as he leaves office is lower than any president in recorded history.

Edwin Edwards got caught in the weight of just too many high profile requests. In the final days of his presidency, Bush’s key aides no doubt told him to “punt” on the Edwards commutation, and let him serve the additional 2 1/2 years.  Bill Clinton would have pardoned Edwards, and he still may have a shot with the new democratic president. After all, the federal guidelines in the Edwards case called for a five-year sentence, and the judge gave him 10. He has served six years so far, so his release date (serving the required 85% of the sentence) is June of 2010.

So what does retiring George Bush say to many of his own strong supporters who he had given assurances to that Edwards would be pardoned?  Simple.  He can go back in Louisiana history and find solace in the comments of former Louisiana Gov. Earl Long. When Uncle Earl was serving as the state’s chief executive back in the 1950s, he decided to renege on a campaign promise to a group of loyal supporters in a deep South Louisiana parish. One of Long’s key aides reminded  the Governor  that he had given his word, and asked what he should tell this group who wanted an answer. Long didn’t miss a beat:  “Just look them in the eye, and tell them I lied.”


The folly which we might have ourselves committed is the one which we are least ready to pardon in another.“

                          Joseph Roeux

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown 

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana.  You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com. Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana.  You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.  

12 Responses
  1. James

    Why not pardon edwards? Because he’s a criminal who has yet to admit any fault. Let him reflect on it some more…

  2. Tom Fancett

    I want to teach in either high scool or community college. I have a BS Chem Engr, minor in business. I have taught hundreds as a plant manager for BASF and as a consultant to the oil/gas industry. It is frustrating to know that I am not certified and that there is no short cut to certification. You were right today on radio that there are hundreds of ‘retired’ executives that would gladly help educate, but have to go back to school. I think I could pass the certification without going to class. Keep this issue going. I will help you in anyway I can.

    Tom Fancett
    225 572 7726
    11619 Beco Rd, St Amant, LA

  3. ken

    I’m okay with a comutation for ewe if all other persons with similar sentences and similar time left in federal prisons get the same. he is no more soecial than they are. Now if the majority of those persons incarcerated feel differently. Lets hear their say.

  4. Frank

    EWE is crooked Louisiana politics at it’s best. He needs to stay locked up until his sentence is served, then disappear. It would appear EWE was right about Treen being slow (it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 minutes; why would you help a man get out of jail who personally insulted you? EWE is a convicted crook who is getting his just rewards.

  5. and I am still peeved that President Clinton who had tons of mutual friends to us, Jimmie Davis, you, me, etc.

    These Presidents did not like Louisiana evidently.


    Why on earth President Clinton DID NOT SEND GOV. JIMMIE DAVIS A 100TH BIRTHDAY CARD FOR OUR BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION 9/11/99, even when Ted Jones and his Democratic friends urged him to. I know this President and others always sent 100th Birthday cards. BUT he put me on his private meailing list.

    I also wrote a 10 Page Filmography/Discography Dissertation to President Clinton and nominated Gov. Davis to get National Merit Award and no he did not ignore me at all, because he enrolled me on his maillist VIPs to be invited to ceremonies, BUT did not appoint him. Therefore I was very surprised and unhappy with President Clinton. I don’t give a hoot what he did in his life or programs, personality, etc. This was the utomost abomination.

    Susie Labry

  6. Back to Edwin.

    I never understood why. Bush’s legacy was ruined anyway. He was a flop the way he handled things. I was not for his nomination.

    Now why is it so difficult for Barack Obama to pardon. I hear that is difficult. Why?

    Isn’t this man a Democrat?

    What is the problem? Edwin was punished, now the friends and family are punished since we cannot be with him.

    Are we that far distance from the Obama I know of that listens to the people?


  7. Tom Tyner

    While it probably did not enter into Bush’s decision, Edwards did not deserve a pardon. Those who seek the public trust should be held to a higher standard and when they violate that trust, dealt with most harshly.

  8. George

    Edwards was sentenced to TWICE the years called for in federal sentencing guidelines because Judge Polozola obviously had some personal agenda. That agenda will now cost taxpayers unnecessarily an additional $140,000, since each federal inmate costs $40,000/year to incarcerate. Edwards should have been commuted purely for economic reasons. He’ll be 82 this year, for crying out loud.

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