President Obama plans to grant clemency to federal offenders “more aggressively” during the remainder of his presidency, he told the Huffington Post. Obama has faced criticism for rarely using his power to grant pardons and commutations. In December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal drug offenders, including four who had been sentenced to life. That brought his total to 18. Obama said he had granted clemency so infrequently because of problems in the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. The former head of that office, who was appointed during the George W. Bush administration, resigned in April amid criticism from criminal justice advocates.
“I noticed that what I was getting was mostly small-time crimes from very long ago,” Obama said. “It’d be a 65-year-old who wanted a pardon to get his gun rights back. Most of them were legitimate, but they didn’t address the broader issues that we face, particularly around nonviolent drug offenses. So we’ve revamped now the DOJ office. We’re now getting much more representative applicants.” Many new applications came from Clemency Project 2014, a partnership between the government and private attorneys to help sort through a huge number of applicants. Obama said it was “encouraging” to see support for the elimination of some mandatory minimum sentences as a “rare area where we’re actually seeing significant bipartisan interest,” with some libertarians and conservatives concerned about costs joining with Democrats.