WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush took the rare step Wednesday of revoking a pardon he had granted only a day before, after learning in news reports of political contributions to Republicans by the man’s father and other information.
Bush pardoned 19 people on Tuesday, including Isaac Robert Toussie of Brooklyn, N.Y., who had been convicted of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and of mail fraud. On Wednesday, the White House issued an extraordinary statement saying the president was reversing his decision in Toussie’s case.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the new decision was “based on information that has subsequently come to light,” including on the extent and nature of Toussie’s prior criminal offenses. She also said that neither the White House counsel’s office nor the president had been aware of a political contribution by Toussie’s father that “might create an appearance of impropriety.”
“Given that, this was the prudent thing to do,” she said.
The new information came to the White House’s attention from news reports, Perino said.
A story in the New York Daily News said Toussie’s father, Robert, donated $28,500 to the national Republican Party in April. It came just months before Toussie’s pardon petition, the newspaper said.
The Justice Department advises the president on who qualifies for pardons. Only people who have waited five years after their conviction or release from prison can apply for a pardon under the department’s guidelines. Criminals are required to begin serving time, or otherwise exhaust any appeals, before they can be considered for sentence commutation.
But the president can forgive people outside that process if he chooses. Under the Constitution, the president’s power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled – meaning he can forgive anyone he wants, at any time.
“The counsel to the president reviewed the application and believed, based on the information known to him at the time, that it was a meritorious application,” she said. Bush now believes the case should rest with the pardon attorney.
Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and a close follower of presidential clemency decisions, said the White House decision strikes him as unprecedented, but he said it’s not inconceivable that it had happened in the past.
“It’s, at best, embarrassing. At worst, it’s an extraordinary example of this White House’s ability to bollix up one bit of presidential authority that he clearly has,” Berman said.
Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel during Bush’s first term and Isaac Toussie’s lawyer, said in a statement that his client remained confident the pardon attorney would grant his request.
“Isaac Toussie is deeply grateful that both the counsel to the president and the president himself found Mr. Toussie’s pardon application to have sufficient merit to be granted,” Berenson said. “Mr. Toussie looks forward to the pardon attorney’s expeditious review of the application.”