Politics Odds: Obama’s Presidential Pardons

Presidential pardons of the past have ranged from the novel to the extremely suspicious. At one end of the spectrum you have Reagan’s pardon of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, a larger-than-life figure found guilty of bootlegging moonshine. His pardon simply allowed Junior to vote again and was more or less a presidential hat-tip to an American icon.

At the other end, you have Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, which granted the latter a complete and unconditional pardon for any crimes he committed against the United States in the Watergate scandal. You don’t need a tinfoil hat to suspect that the pardon was granted in exchange for Nixon’s resignation, leaving Ford the presidency.

Bill Clinton famously pardoned 140 people on his very last day as president. The list included a ragtag bunch of white collar criminals, corrupt politicians, and his half-brother, who was found guilty of cocaine distribution.

As Barack Obama’s presidency comes to a close, he may be looking to throw down some farewell pardons himself. So far, he has only issued 64 pardons, which is far lower than Dubya’s 176 and Clinton’s 456.

Obama seems more hesitant than previous presidents to pick up his pen and make it rain presidential pardons. But if he does, here are the odds on who he may pick.


Odds to be pardoned by Barack Obama

Lois Lerner: 4/1

Lerner was the IRS director during the 2013 targeting controversy, in which the IRS allegedly discriminated against conservative groups by denying or delaying their tax-exempt status. The scandal led to her resignation and an FBI investigation which later cleared her. She was then found in contempt of congress for refusing to testify at a congressional hearing.

The case split congress down party lines. Republicans called for her head while the Democrats scrambled to shield her. Obama may step in before his term ends and pardon her for any lingering sins.

Hillary Clinton: 17/3

From Whitewater to Benghazi to emails, the Clintons have had their fair share of investigations. And with Trump once vowing to open a special investigation on her emails when he is president (he’s since changed his mind on this) and his supporters’ endless chants of “Lock her up,” Clinton has every reason to be worried.

A presidential pardon from Obama may taint his legacy and divide the public, but he may feel a pardon is necessary to protect one of his allies.

The Whistleblowers

  • Chelsea Manning: 22/3
  • Bowe Bergdahl: 87/13
  • Edward Snowden: 97/3

When he ran for president in 2008, Obama vowed to run the most transparent administration in history and fight for the rights of whistleblowers. But over his eight years as president, he prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the previous administrations combined.

If we are to believe his actions over his words, then it’s extremely unlikely that Manning, Bergdahl, and especially Snowden will be granted any leniency by the president. But, as his term comes to an end, he may look to fulfill some of the promises he made eight years ago. That could involve pardoning some high-profile whistleblowers.


Photo credit: “Obama” by Matt B, CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Flickr.