The Most Controversial Pardons in the History of the United States

A president pardoning someone is the equivalent of a prison warden setting a convicted felon free into the world. There have been several instances of government officials using their power and influence to set various individuals free of whatever punishment they had waiting for them. It’s not a recent development either, this is a power move that has been done several times now and sometimes, it leaves people scratching their heads. Here are some of the most controversial pardons in the history of the United States.

1. Gerald Ford Pardons Nixon

One of the most jaw-dropping pardons was when Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon for his involvement in the infamous 1972 Watergate scandal. It was quickly surmised that Richard Nixon was at the center of it all and, despite his attempt at hiding evidence, he was quickly outed and impeached two years later. Only one month into his presidential term, Ford announced to the American people that Nixon was granted a full, unconditional pardon for any crimes he may have committed. It didn’t take long for the White House to be bombarded with a string of calls from outraged citizens.

2. Andrew Johnson Pardons the Confederates

Shortly after Andrew Johnson became president following Abraham Lincoln’s death, many Southerners assumed that he would come down on them harshly. Fearing punishment, thousands of Confederates fled to Canada, Mexico and a few other countries. But to most people’s surprise, Johnson pardoned approximately 12,652 Confederate supporters only one year into his presidency. As expected, many were angry, including Republicans who probably saw it as a betrayal of the constitution. They later went on to impeach him and by 1869, Johnson was out of office.

3. Bill Clinton Pardons His Own Brother

Bill Clinton’s younger half-brother, Roger Clinton Jr., had a long and turbulent history due to his controversial behavior, one that earned him the nickname “Headache” among Secret Service agents. In 1985, he was convicted for the possession and distribution of illegal substances. Just hours before leaving the Oval Office, Bill Clinton decided to give his brother and 100 other individuals a second chance at life, which many saw as a conflict of interest. Roger pretty much threw this opportunity away because in June 2016, he was arrested yet again, this time for drunk driving.

4. George W. Bush Pardons Scooter Libby

Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the former chief of staff to Geroge Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney. He was facing up to 30 months in federal prison after he was convicted of perjury, lying to federal agents and obstruction of justice during an investigation into the illegal disclosure of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, which he allegedly did to get back at her husband, Joe Wilson. Libby was only two weeks away from serving his sentence when Bush swept in and issued a commutation, which only reduced the lengths of his prison time, unlike a pardon which completely forgives the crime.

5. Governor Mike Beebe Pardons His Own Son

In 2003, Kyle Beebe, the son of Governor Mike Beebe applied for a pardon from his father after he was convicted for possession of cannabis. He pleaded: “Mr. Governor, I am asking for a second chance at life. I am asking for a second chance to be the man that I know that I can be.” When he was arrested, Governor Beebe was in full support of his son paying the price for his actions. But that didn’t last long, because he quickly changed his stance claiming that, “kids when they’re young do stupid things.”



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