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12-24-08, 02:44 AM #1
Bush pardons 19 more...guess which two aren't
WASHINGTON – In a gesture of forgiveness for a decades-old offense, President George W. Bush on Tuesday granted a pardon posthumously to a man who broke the law to supply aircraft to Jews fighting in Israel's 1948 war of independence.
Charles Winters, a Miami businessman considered a hero in Israel, was listed in a batch of 19 pardons and one commutation that Bush issued before leaving for Camp David to spend the holidays. No high-profile lawbreakers were on the list.
Winters' son, Jim, had found out about his father's daring missions and imprisonment only after his death in 1984.
"I'm overwhelmed," Jim Winters, a Miami maker of artistic neon signs, said in a telephone interview. "It happened 16 years before I was born. He went to jail and he didn't want his kids to know. He was old-school and proud."
Members of the Jewish community, who adorned his father's funeral with blue and white flowers symbolic of the Israeli flag, filled in details about his father's past. His obituary in The Miami Herald read, "Charles Winters, 71, aided birth of Israel."
In the summer of 1948, Winters, a Protestant from Boston who exported produce, worked with others to transfer two converted B-17 "Flying Fortresses" to Israel's defense forces. He personally flew one of the aircraft from Miami to Czechoslovakia, where that plane and a third B-17 were retrofitted for use as bombers.
"He and other volunteers from around the world defied weapons embargoes to supply the newly established Israel with critical supplies to defend itself against mounting attacks from all sides," New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Gary Ackerman, Jose Serrano and Brian Higgins said in a Dec. 15 letter urging Bush to pardon Charlie Winters. "Without the actions of individuals like Mr. Winters, this fledgling democracy in the Middle East almost certainly would not have survived as the surrounding nations closed in on Israel's borders."
The three B-17s were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force. It is reported that counterattacks with the bombers helped turned the war in Israel's favor. In March 1961, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir issued a letter of commendation to Winters to recognize his contributions to Israel's survival as an independent state.
Winters, a Protestant from Boston, was convicted in 1949 for violating the Neutrality Act for conspiring to export aircraft to a foreign country. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Two others, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, also were convicted of violating the act, but they did not serve time. President Kennedy pardoned Greenspun in 1961. President Clinton pardoned Schwimmer in 2000.
"Rules are rules, but it's interesting that my dad was the low man on the totem pole in the operation, but he's the only one who had to serve time," said Jim Winters, 44.
Reginald Brown, an attorney who worked on the Winters pardon, said Bush's action "rights a historical wrong and honors Charlie's belief that the creation of the Jewish state was a moral imperative of his time. ... Charlie Winters helped shape human history for the better."
Film director Steven Spielberg wrote a letter to Bush appealing for a pardon for Winters.
"There are probably many unsung heroes of America and of Israel, but Charlie Winters is surely one of them," wrote the director of "Schindler's List," his Oscar-winning movie about the Holocaust. "While a pardon cannot make Charlie Winters whole, and regrettably he did not live to see it, it would be a fitting tribute to his memory and a great blessing to his family if this pardon is granted."
After Winters died Oct. 30, 1984, half of his ashes were buried in a Christian cemetery near the Jewish cemetery of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem. The other half was scattered from the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. Jim Winters said the last words his father spoke to him were "Keep the faith" — something the young Winters said he did during more than a year that he sought the pardon.
The only other pardon granted posthumously in recent years was given to Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was drummed out of the Army after white officers accused him of embezzling about $3,800 from commissary funds. Flipper initially discovered the funds missing from his custody and concealed their disappearance from superiors, hoping the money would return. Clinton gave Flipper a full pardon in 1999.
With this latest batch, which includes forgiveness for convictions ranging from gun and drug violations to bank and mail fraud, Bush has granted a total of 190 pardons and nine commutations. That's fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Ronald Reagan issued during their two terms.
Well-known names were not on Bush's holiday pardon list. There have been efforts to get Bush to pardon former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who was convicted in 2000 with four others in a scheme to rig riverboat casino licensing; disgraced track star Marion Jones, who lied about using steroids; Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, former U.S. Border Patrol agents who were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler in 2005 and trying to cover it up; and Michael Milken, junk bond king who was convicted of securities fraud.
In his most high-profile official act of forgiveness, Bush saved Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, from serving any prison time in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice. Bush could still grant him a full pardon, although Libby has not applied for one.
12-25-08, 03:04 AM #2
WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush on Wednesday revoked a pardon he had granted only a day before — a step unheard of in recent memory — 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 counsel's office generally doesn't include vetting of political contributions in its reviews on such matters, as that would be "highly inappropriate on many levels," she said. The White House decision on Toussie had come without a recommendation from the pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, as Toussie's request for a pardon came less than five years after completion of his sentence, so that eliminated another step in the review process.
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.
Perino said she did not know of another instance of a pardon reversal in "recent memory," but that the White House couldn't say for sure it never had happened before.
"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.
The Daily News story on Wednesday, and another in Newsday and on blogs, shed light on Toussie's record. He pleaded guilty for lying to HUD and mail fraud, admitting that he falsified finances of prospective homebuyers seeking HUD mortgages. He was sentenced to five months in prison and five months' house arrest, a $10,000 fine and no restitution, the Daily News reported.
In another case, Toussie pleaded guilty to having a friend send his local county a letter that falsely inflated property values.
The Daily News also located a lawyer representing hundreds of ex-customers who have sued Toussie in federal court, accusing him of luring poor, minority homebuyers into buying overpriced homes with mortgages that had hidden costs.
The attorney, Peter E. Seidman, said Wednesday that news of the pardon was "gut wrenching for his clients" and left him "baffled."
"I am glad somebody at the White House woke up," he said in an interview.
Maxine D. Wilson, 42, bought one of Toussie's homes on Long Island in 1996. She later sued Toussie, claiming the house started to fall apart after she moved in in 1997. She said she was shocked when she learned Bush was going to pardon Toussie.
"I was angry at how money, power and influence seemed to trump justice," she said. But on Wednesday, she said, "I feel today that somebody paid attention. Somebody stepped back and made us feel equal."
Federal Election Commission records show a number of donations to Republicans this year by Robert Toussie and by a Laura Toussie who lists the same address. Between them, they gave $4,600 to Minnesota GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and another $4,600 to Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, all on Oct. 15. Coleman is locked in a still-undecided race against Democrat Al Franken, and Smith lost in November to Democrat Jeff Merkley.
On Oct. 30, Robert Toussie also gave $2,300 to GOP Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
His contribution to the Republican National Committee came as part of a fundraiser in March for GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Out of a total donation of $30,800 by Toussie, $2,300 went to McCain's campaign and $28,500 went to the RNC.
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 bollox 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."
Berenson declined to elaborate further on the case and its developments.
With the Toussie reversal, Bush has granted a total of 189 pardons and nine commutations. That's fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two-term tenures.
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