Fact check: Biden flat-out wrong about Obama’s ’18,000’ grants of clemency at town hall

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During an NBC News-sponsored town hall-style event on Monday, Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden gave a demonstrably false answer in response to a discussion about criminal justice reform during the Obama administration.

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who moderated the event, noted that President Donald Trump touts his bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts, while “you and Barack Obama served at a time when you had both houses of Congress and still couldn’t get some of these things done.”

“Yeah, we did, we let 18,000 people were…got…got clemency,” Biden shot back.

 Verdict: False.

In reality, Obama set records for clemencies — both approved and denied. But the figure Biden cited is wildly inaccurate, which matters because his campaign has made focusing on President Trump’s honesty an issue.

“Former President Barack Obama has been widely commended for granting a record 1,927 applications for clemency during his two terms in office from January 20, 2009 through January 19, 2017, consisting of 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons. Those figures are higher than the clemencies granted by the previous six presidents combined,” Prison Legal News reported in March 2017, a month into Trump’s term.

“The record number of clemency applications granted by Obama, in part to address draconian federal prison sentences – including commutations for 568 prisoners serving life sentences – will perhaps be the most enduring part of his presidential legacy,” the report noted further.

But this is where Biden’s error occurs.

“Of the 33,149 commutation and 3,395 pardon applications received during Obama’s two terms in office, 18,749 and 506 were denied, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Prison Legal News notes further.

An additional 4,750 applications for clemency were closed with any action taken by Obama whatsoever.

“Thus,” the report states, “in addition to granting a record number of clemencies, Obama also denied a record number. One federal prisoner rejected a grant of commutation.”

Further, “it has been argued that Obama was a transformational leader who ran on the slogan of ‘hope and change.’ However, while many prisoners had hope their clemency applications would be granted, relatively few received a change in their prison sentences.”

Trump’s pardons and commutations are far fewer than were Obama’s at the same time in their presidencies, according to the Justice Department. But one pardon, in particular, stands out: Alice Johnson.

In a tweet last month, One America News correspondent Jack Posobiec said that Johnson applied for clemency twice during the Obama/Biden administration but was denied both times. Following an appeal on her behalf by Kim Kardashian, however, the president pardoned Johnson, 64, after she had served 21 years of a life sentence for a first-time non-violent drug offense.


Also, by the president’s own admission, Kardashian helped lead overall prison reform efforts. The “First Step Act” has been credited by liberals and conservatives as a win for former inmates seeking to rebuild their lives after incarceration.

In a February interview, Kardashian praised President Trump for signing the bill, and noted that because of it, others were being released from incarceration.


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Jon Dougherty


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