Pardons and Commutations, but None for Pollard

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

President George W. Bush, who must be busy packing cartons at the White House and selecting a mover, also found time this week to issue a few presidential pardons and commutations.  But those hoping convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would be among them were quickly disappointed.

The list of recipients includes a cocaine distributor, a bank embezzler and someone convicted of improperly using food stamps, but no spies.

Perhaps remembering the huge controversy stirred up by former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich in the waning days of his presidency eight years ago, Bush steered clear of potentially controversial pardons and commutations – which pretty much precluded action on Pollard, who is starting his 24th year in prison for spying for Israel.

Pollard’s supporters have organized a White House call-in campaign in recent weeks, but his name has not surfaced among likely recipients.  While President Bush could sign additional pardons and commutations before turning over the White House keys to Barack Obama,  there’s no indication he’s planning on bucking a defense and intelligence establishment that remains vehemently opposed to releasing Pollard.

One big unknown: will Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Washington for a farewell visit before leaving office himself, make anything more than a pro-forma pitch for Pollard’s release?  Esther Pollard, Jonathan’s outspoken wife, called the trip a “golden opportunity” to win Pollard’s release in a letter to the prime minister, according to the Israeli media.  So far, there’s no indication Olmert has been pushing the issue hard during his meetings here.

Pollard’s cause has largely evaporated from the to-do lists of major Jewish organizations – in part because of its association with far-right forces in Israel. Pollard himself, of course, claims that major Jewish groups here have never really pushed for his release.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.