How Presidential Pardons Work

By: Patrick J. Kiger  | 

Pardons: Famous, Infamous and Otherwise

Many Americans were outraged when President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon after the Watergate affair. Bill Pierce/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Here are five more controversial presidential pardons in modern history.

  • In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned his immediate predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any crimes that he might have committed during the Watergate scandal. Some critics accused Ford of having cut a deal with Nixon, which Ford denied. Ford's granting of the pardon may have played a role in his loss in the 1976 Presidential election to Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter [source: Time].
  • President Jimmy Carter in 1977 granted amnesty to thousands of Americans who had avoided service in the Vietnam War, either by fleeing the country or not registering with Selective Service boards. Carter was criticized by veterans groups who thought the draft dodgers were unpatriotic, but he also drew fire on the political left because he had excluded military deserters and others [source: Glass].
  • President Ronald Reagan in 1989 pardoned New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who had pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and illegal contributions to the 1972 Nixon campaign [source: Associated Press].
  • President George H.W. Bush in 1992 pardoned six figures on charges related to the Iran-Contra scandal, in which officials in the Reagan Administration had arranged the sale of missiles to Iran and then used the proceeds to fund a rebel army in Nicaragua. Bush, who had served as Reagan's vice president, had denied any involvement in Iran-Contra during the 1988 presidential election [source: Glass].
  • President Bill Clinton, shortly before leaving office in 2001, pardoned financier Marc Rich and his partner Pincus Green, who fled the U.S. after being indicted on tax evasion and other charges [source: Berg]. The FBI subsequently investigated whether the pardon had been influenced by contributions to the Democratic party and the Clinton Presidential Library, but closed the probe in 2005 without filing any charges [source: Gerstein].