What Role Did Bradford Berenson Have In Bush’s Pardongate?

bberenson1.jpgAfter first pardoning “a Brooklyn real estate developer accused of scamming hundreds of poor, minority homebuyers – and whose father donated $28,500 to the Republican Party this year,” the Bush White House moved quickly this afternoon to reverse course. Bush revoked the pardon for Isaac Toussie after the White House acknowledged that the Brooklyn housing scammer did not meet pardon guidelines.

Putting aside the fact that Bush decided it was fine to grant a pardon for a predatory mortgage lender in the midst of a recession, there were a number of other improprieties in the pardon of Toussie:

— First of all, it had been granted by Bush despite the fact that the Pardon Attorney, Ronald L. Rogers, had not given a formal recommendation for it.

— Also, Toussie had not qualified for a pardon per Justice Department guidelines because it had not yet been five years since the completion of his sentence.

— Furthermore, Toussie’s pardon came after his father, Robert, made his first political donation of $28,500 to the national Republican party in April.

Perhaps the most intriguing matter is the process by which the White House decided to issue the pardon. Toussie had hired Bradford Berenson, a former top lawyer in the White House counsel’s office from 2001-2003, to handle the case.

Berenson may have been responsible for persuading his former White House colleagues to bypass the normal procedures. It wouldn’t be the first time Berenson has acted in that manner. In Angler — an introspective book on Dick Cheney’s vice presidency — author Barton Gellman documents an earlier attempt by Berenson to pull a fast one.

In Nov. 2001, with Berenson’s assistance, Vice President Cheney hastily pushed a legal memo through the White House which ordered that all terrorism suspects in U.S. custody could be detained indefinitely without charge. Berenson skirted normal vetting procedures:

After leaving Bush’s private dining room, the vice president took no chances on a last-minute objection. He sent the order on a swift path to execution that left no sign of his role. After Addington and Flanigan, the text passed to Berenson, the associate White House counsel. Cheney’s link to the document broke there: Berenson was not told of its provenance.

Berenson rushed the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart W. Bowen Jr., bearing instructions to prepare it for signature immediately — without advance distribution to the president’s top advisers. Bowen objected, he told colleagues later, saying he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever bypassing strict procedures of coordination and review. He relented, one White House official said, only after “rapid, urgent persuasion” that Bush was standing by to sign and that the order was too sensitive to delay.

In an interview, Berenson said it was his understanding that “someone had briefed” the president “and gone over it” already. He added: “I don’t know who that was.”

Today, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said she did not know of another instance of a pardon reversal in “recent memory,” but the White House couldn’t say for sure whether it had ever happened before.

The Toussie case isn’t over yet. “The president believes that the pardon attorney should have an opportunity to review this case before a decision on clemency is made,” Perino said. And that means Berenson will have an opportunity to continue to bill Toussie for another few weeks in an effort to secure an illegitimate pardon, again.


The Washington Post reports Berenson’s reaction:

Berenson said in a statement that Toussie “is deeply grateful that both the Counsel to the President and the President himself found Mr. Toussie’s pardon application to have sufficient merit to be granted,” and suggested he remained optimistic about his chances. Berenson declined further comment.

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