Politics

Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked 

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Updated May 3, 2018 14.5k votes 1.6k voters 32.5k views 44 items

List Rules Vote up the most controversial presidential pardons - those that most shocked the country and led to intense national debate.

Why do presidents pardon people? It depends on the situation and who you ask, as the topic of presidential pardons is ripe with controversy. United States history is no stranger to political scandals and presidential corruption, and pardons are often a cause of public outrage. Oftentimes, individuals granted clemency by the Commander in Chief become the subject of national debate. Even partial pardons - like commuted sentences - are often met with backlash. Here, you'll find every president's most controversial pardon, ranked by your votes.

As they're absolved of past criminal convictions, people who have been pardoned by the president get a second chance at life. However, there is a lot of disagreement in regards to who actually deserves a second chance. The nation was appalled when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for his part in Watergate, as Americans were desperate to see reparation for widespread political corruption. Donald Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio sparked a debate as to whether the Arizona sheriff was a deeply prejudiced tyrant or an unsung champion of justice. What other presidential pardons have shocked Americans? Vote up the pardons you find controversial below.

list ordered by
1
Gerald Ford is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Hands down Gerald Ford's most controversial pardon was that of Richard Nixon. The former president received a full, unconditional pardon for his role in the Watergate Scandal, which resulted in his resignation. Nixon is the only former president to receive a pardon.

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2
Andrew Johnson is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Dr. Samuel Mudd helped Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, escape shortly after Booth shot Lincoln. While he was sentenced to life in prison for his actions, Andrew Johnson gave him a full and unconditional pardon.

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3
Bill Clinton is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Bill Clinton kept it in the family when granting controversial pardons. He pardoned his brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., for 1985 convictions of cocaine possession and drug-trafficking. Roger Clinton later received several DUIs.

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4
Donald Trump is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

One of Donald Trump's most controversial pardons was that of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for illegally detaining people without reasonable evidence after being ordered to cease these practices. Civil rights groups protested the pardon as they viewed Arpaio's actions as unconstitutional attacks on immigrants.

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5
George H. W. Bush is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

George H. W. Bush pardoned Armand Hammer for his crime of making illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign. The timing of the pardon was controversial as Hammer had contributed over $100,000 to the Republican party shortly before he was absolved of wrong-doing.

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6
Calvin Coolidge is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Calvin Coolidge had a few controversial pardons of his own, including that of German spy Lothar Witzke. Along with spying for Germany, Witzke was involved with a 1916 bombing attack on New York Harbor that left seven dead. After being pardoned, Witzke was deported to Germany. 

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7
Barack Obama is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

In 2017, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was court-martialed for violating the espionage act after giving classified documents to WikiLeaks. The move allowed her to leave prison after serving only seven years of a 35-year sentence.

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8
Woodrow Wilson is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Woodrow Wilson issued the only full executive pardon to someone convicted under the Espionage Act when he pardoned Frederick Krafft in 1918. Krafft was accused - and found guilty of - attempting to cause insubordination and disloyalty towards the American government and armed forces. There were multiple accounts of the incident in question and Krafft denied all charges against him.

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9
Dwight D. Eisenhower is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to commute the death sentence of Maurice Schick – who brutally murdered a young girl at a US Army camp in Japan – to life in prison without the possibility of parole went all the way to the Supreme Court. Schick alleged that "life imprisonment without parole" was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Eisenhower's decision. 

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10
John Quincy Adams is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

John Quincy Adams pardoning of Ho-Chuck leaders Wekau and Chickhonsic, who were convicted of murder, was one of the first truly controversial presidential pardons. He lifted their sentences in exchange for a land cession in 1828.

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11
William McKinley is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Alexander McKenzie helped secure the appointments of many political figures in Alaska. He then used political favors as a way to get the same judges to take gold mines from their rightful owners and give them to him. After being ordered by a high court to return the mines to their owners, McKenzie did nothing and was eventually found guilty of contempt of court. President McKinley pardoned him in 1901 after only serving three months.

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12
Richard Nixon is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Richard Nixon commuted the sentence of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa – who was convicted of fraud and bribery – in 1971. Hoffa disappeared four years later following a meeting with known members of the mafia. He was declared legally dead in 1982.

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13
George W. Bush is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

George W. Bush commuted the sentence of his assistant Lewis "Scooter" Libby – who was also Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff – for a perjury conviction associated with revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plume.

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14
Lyndon B. Johnson is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Lyndon B. Johnson pardoned Congressman Frank W. Boykin – who was convicted of conspiracy and conflict of interest – upon the request of Robert F. Kennedy in 1964. 

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15
John Tyler is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

John Tyler pardoned Alexander William Holmes, who admitted to throwing several people off a lifeboat in 1841. The reason Holmes was granted a pardon is that the crew did what they did in order to lessen the load of the lifeboat and save some lives rather than forcing everyone to go down with the ship.

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16
Jimmy Carter is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Just like his predecessor Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter went easy on Watergate offenders when he commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Liddy, who led the group that broke into the DNC at the Watergate Complex. While Liddy had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, Carter released him after only four years. 

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17
Grover Cleveland is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Grover Cleveland used the power of the presidency to pardon a known associate of Billy the Kid, Billy Wilson. Wilson was arrested with a gang of outlaws after being involved in a shoot-out in White Oaks that resulted in the death of a deputy sheriff.

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18
James Buchanan is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Utah governor Brigham Young encouraged independence among residents of his state. After federal officials received information regarding obstruction of officials, President James Buchanan appointed a new governor. Young called upon his militia and withheld federal troops for several months in what was called the Utah War. Young eventually agreed to step-down and Buchanan pardoned Young for his involvement in the uprising.

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19
Theodore Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Stephen A. Douglas Puter was involved in a number of land scandals in Oregon and California. Via fraudulent claims, Puter got thousands of acres of federal land transferred to private owners in Oregon and California. He was issued a pardon in 1907 in order to become a witness for the state. His testimony led to the indictments of three of his co-conspirators.

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20
Ulysses S. Grant is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Ulysses S. Grant effectively pardoned most members of the Confederacy when he signed the Amnesty Act in 1872. This allowed former Confederacy members to once again vote and hold office. Tensions were still high across the United States and Grant viewed the act as a way to promote unity.

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21
Andrew Jackson is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Andrew Jackson's most controversial pardon wasn't contentious in and of itself, rather the problem came from the recipient's refusal to accept it. George Wilson was found guilty of robbery of the mail in 1829. Wilson refused the pardon without explaining his reasoning, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was his right to reject it. Wilson was ultimately executed by hanging.

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22
Herbert Hoover is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Herbert Hoover's pardon of Indiana Governor Warren T. McCray highlighted the influence the KKK wielded in the state. McCray got himself in trouble by taking out questionable loans, but it was his vetoing of legislation supported by the KKK that led to his arrest when Indiana's Attorney General – and KKK member– filed a series of suits against him. McCray was convicted of mail fraud in 1927 and received a pardon from Hoover in 1930 after the president was informed of the Klan's role in his initial conviction.

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23
James Monroe is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
24
William Howard Taft is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

William Howard Taft was duped by criminal banker Charles W. Morse into issuing a pardon for medical reasons in 1912 after Morse claimed to be terminally ill. It was later learned that Morse had faked his illness by ingesting soap and chemicals.

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25
Harry S. Truman is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked

Harry S. Truman used his presidential pardon power to commute the sentence of Oscar Collazo – who was found guilty of attempting to assassinate Truman – from death to life imprisonment in 1952. Collazo's sentence was further commuted to time served by Jimmy Carter in 1979 and he was able to return to Puerto Rico.

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