Departing U.S. Justice Department's pardon attorney Deborah Leff is leaving her job because she is frustrated by a lack of resources for one of the president's centerpiece criminal-justice initiatives, people close to her tell the Washington Post. Leff’s resignation was previously reported by Politico. Leff ls leaving as the Obama administration struggles to process a backlog of more than 9,000 pending clemency petitions. As the president approaches the end of his second term, time is running out for his high-profile effort to offer clemency to certain nonviolent federal drug offenders harshly sentenced in the nation's war on drugs.
Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce said the department is asking Congress to more than double the number of lawyers assigned to the pardon office, from 22 to 46. Leff “never got the staffing she needed,” said one friend. “She was very frustrated.” Other people close to Leff said that she was passionate about making the clemency initiative work but had been unhappy for quite some time about not having enough resources. Advocates of sentencing reform are disappointed that the clemency process has not moved more quickly and that more of the thousands who have submitted clemency petitions have not had their sentences commuted. “I think it's terrible timing in terms of the push to get more clemency grants before the president leaves office,” New York University law Prof. Rachel Barkow, a clemency advocate and co-founder of the Clemency Resource Center, said of Leff's departure.