WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, in a final act of clemency, commuted the prison sentences of two U.S. Border Patrol agents but steered clear of any high-profile pardons for former vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby and others.
Bush commuted the 11-year prison sentence of Ignacio Ramos and the 12-year sentence of Jose Alonso Compean, who were tried for shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks in a case in Texas that drew widespread attention.
Their 2006 conviction drew an outcry from supporters who said the agents had been treated too harshly and were just doing their job. Under the commutation, their prison sentences will expire on March 20.
“He (Bush) believes that the length of the sentence and the conditions of their confinement were too harsh, they suffered enough for their crimes,” a White House official said on condition of anonymity.
“He does believe that both men received a fair trial and a just verdict,” the official said.
This was expected to be Bush’s last act of clemency before his presidency ends at noon (1700 GMT) on Tuesday when Barack Obama takes office.
The two commutations were in marked contrast to predecessor Bill Clinton, who issued a flurry of 140 pardons on his last day as president.
Controversy still reverberates over Clinton’s last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was a major Democratic donor.
Obama’s choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, faced questions about the Rich pardon during confirmation hearings and said he erred in supporting the 2001 pardon when he was Clinton’s deputy attorney general.
The Justice Department said Clinton granted a total of 459 clemency petitions and President Ronald Reagan granted 406 during their time in office.
Bush has been more tight-fisted with pardons, having issued a total of 189 pardons and 11 commutations of sentences during his eight years in office, according to the White House. None have generated the controversy of Clinton’s pardons.
Perhaps more notable than the commutations were the pardons not issued on the eve of the presidential handover of power.
No pardon was granted for Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff who was convicted of lying to a grand jury investigating the leaked identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month sentence in 2007.
Also omitted was former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who is fighting his October 27 conviction for failing to report significant gifts on his financial disclosure forms. Stevens, a Republican, lost his re-election race in November, and has accused federal investigators of misconduct in his case.
Bernard Ebbers, the former WorldCom chief executive officer who was convicted of securities fraud, also did not receive a pardon.
Additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen; Editing by Eric Beech