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December 18, 2012

OIG finds flaws in Clarence Aaron clemency bid

#Justice Department #OIG investigators have found problems in the way officials handled the clemency bid of Clarence Aaron, a first-time drug offender whose case drew sharp media scrutiny.

In a 32-page report issued Tuesday, the investigators found that Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers "did not accurately represent the U.S Attorney’s views regarding Aaron’s commutation petition" and "used ambiguous language that risked misleading the White House Counsel’s Office about the sentencing judge’s position on Aaron’s petition."

The OIG audit followed on the exemplary investigative reporting of the Washington Post and ProPublica's Dafna Linzer.

As summed up in the new report, Aaron was convicted in 1993 of several criminal charges relating to a large cocaine deal. He was sentenced to three concurrent life terms in prison. In 2001, Aaron submitted a clemency petition. In 2007, however, the White House requested that the Department of Justice reconsider Aaron’s still-pending commutation petition.

Rather than prepare a new memo, Rodgers received permission to send an e-mail supplementing the earlier denial recommendation. The OIG investigators, after going into considerable detail, concluded that:

"The primary responsibility for the inaccuracies and ambiguity contained in the e-mail that was sent to the White House ultimately lies with Rodgers...nevertheless, we believe that the Office of the Deputy Attorney General shares some responsibility for this error" because of a failure to edit carefully.

Rodgers, a decorated former Marine Corps officer, noted to investigators the heavy workload facing his office: in November and December of 2008 alone, his office received 757 clemency applications.The report does not contain a formal response.





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While the report is still not public, officials will have to perform a more careful analysis to see what could be released.


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Through McMichael's reporting

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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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