Presidential Pardons Through History: Who’s Received Them?

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For as long as there has been a republic, American presidents have been granting pardons — and no, you don’t need a lifeline from Geraldo Rivera.

Mr. Rivera, the Fox television personality, vouched for the former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to get a pardon from President Trump, who this week granted clemency to Mr. Kerik and 10 other people.

Among them were the so-called junk bond king of the 1980s, Michael R. Milken, and Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, as well as the former Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich, whose corruption sentence was commuted by Mr. Trump.

They joined an exclusive club of reclamation figures, many of them with sordid pasts and political connections: politicians and pirates, the owner of the New York Yankees, fixers in the Iran-contra affair, Deep Throat and a former president, Richard M. Nixon.

The French pirates Jean Lafitte and Pierre Lafitte were best known for their marauding ways in the Gulf of Mexico. The two brothers smuggled goods and enslaved people to southern Louisiana and flouted the law.

Jean Lafitte redeemed himself when he helped defend New Orleans during the War of 1812, earning a pardon from Madison for his and his brother’s smuggling crimes. A national historical park and preserve is named after Jean Lafitte, as well as a former blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street that legend has it was used by the brothers and has laid claim to being the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States.

John C. Frémont, known as the “Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains,” was a central figure in the exploration of the West. He was the military governor of California and an Army officer. But his insubordination during the Mexican-American War led to Frémont’s being court-martialed.

Polk pardoned Frémont, who went on to become the newly formed Republican Party’s first presidential nominee in 1856, a race that he lost.

Brigham Young, a patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ascended to power as the first governor of the Utah Territory. But tensions had been festering between the federal government and the colonists in Utah, which prompted Young’s removal by Buchanan.

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Credit…Harvard Art Museum

The president sent U.S. Army soldiers to Utah to assert federal rule in the territory in what was known as the Utah War. Buchanan ultimately pardoned Young for treason and sedition.

In 1862, a band of Dakota Indians attacked white settlements in the Minnesota frontier and was accused of killing 490 people, including women and children. The hostilities culminated years of strained relations between the influx of settlers and the starving Dakota, historically known as the Sioux, who had been promised food and other supplies in a series of broken peace treaties.

Lincoln, whose grandfather had been killed by Native Americans, spared 265 of 303 Dakota who had been condemned to death. They were either fully pardoned or died in prison.

“I could not afford to hang men for votes,” Lincoln said at the time.

On Christmas Day 1868, Johnson granted pardons to all those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

“I think there is almost this religious sense of mercy and clemency to try to bring the country back together,” Professor Perry said.

Johnson was also known for pardoning Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor and tobacco farmer who was convicted of conspiracy in Lincoln’s assassination after he helped set the broken leg of John Wilkes Boothe and harbored him following the shooting.

James Michael Curley was the embodiment of Boston’s Democratic machine. He was elected mayor several times, but his incumbency was interrupted by multiple defeats. He served in Congress and as Massachusetts governor.

Curley’s political career was also marred by corruption and cronyism. He spent five months in federal prison after being convicted of mail fraud. In 1950, Truman granted Curley a full pardon after securing his release.

It has been 10 years since he died, but legions of baseball fans still know him as The Boss.

George M. Steinbrenner III, whose domineering largess turned the Yankees into a billion-dollar enterprise, was granted a pardon by Reagan for making illegal contributions to Nixon’s campaign in 1972.

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Credit…Gary I. Rothstein for The New York Times

Reagan also was known for pardoning W. Mark Felt, the No. 2 official at the F.B.I. who later revealed he was the informant known as Deep Throat during the Watergate scandal.

On Christmas Day 1992, Bush granted six Reagan administration officials pardons for their roles in the Iran-contra affair, including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

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Credit…Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

Weinberger had been indicted on charges that he lied to Congress about secret arms sales to Iran that helped underwrite U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua.

The pardons wiped out one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases in the Iran-contra affair, which drew condemnation from the independent prosecutor in the case, Lawrence E. Walsh.

Marc Rich, the fugitive financier who fled the United States after his indictment on charges of widespread tax evasion, illegal dealings with Iran and other crimes, received a last-minute reprieve from Mr. Clinton as one of the president’s final acts in office.

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