President Trump made headlines on Wednesday when he commuted the lifetime sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who had already served 21 years in prison for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. Johnson’s plea for clemency had been championed by Kim Kardashian, who took her case to the Oval Office in May.
Johnson’s tearful reunion with friends and family was caught on camera after she was released from an Alabama prison on Wednesday.
But was Johnson pardoned? Not exactly. A presidential pardon erases a criminal conviction, while a commutation leaves the conviction intact but reduces the sentence or punishment.
Here are the most infamous presidential pardons and commutations of the last century.
In 1996, Susan McDougal played a role in the Whitewater scandal and was convicted on charges of conspiracy and defrauding the United States government of a $300,000 loan. At her Whitewater trial, President Bill Clinton testified that he didn’t use his influence as the governor of Arkansas to help her get the loan and that he didn’t even know about it. McDougal later refused to testify against Clinton before a grand jury investigating the Whitewater scandal, and she spent two years in prison for contempt of court. On his last day as president, Clinton pardoned her.
In 1974, 19-year-old heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the urban guerilla group the Symbionese Liberation Army, who allegedly brainwashed her to believe her real name was “Tanya” and that she was truly one of them.
Just two months later, she joined with other members and robbed a bank with an assault rifle. She was convicted of bank robbery and served almost two years of her seven-year sentence before President Jimmy Carter commuted the sentence and she went free. President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon in 2001.
Convicted in 1964, Jimmy Hoffa was the leader of the Teamsters union and had been serving a 13-year prison term for fraud and jury tampering when President Richard Nixon pardoned him in 1971 under the condition that Hoffa refrain from engaging in any management of any labor organization until 1980. Hoffa agreed, but he went missing just four years later and has never been found.
Mark Felt and Edward Miller
In 1978, FBI officials Mark Felt and Edward Miller were convicted on a conspiracy charge when they authorized FBI agents to break into Vietnam War protesters’ homes and workplaces without warrants. President Ronald Reagan pardoned them in 1981 before they had even applied for clemency. It wasn’t until 2005, some 27 years after their crimes, that Felt revealed he was the whistleblower known as “Deep Throat.”
Former President Richard Nixon was granted a pre-emptive pardon by his successor and former vice president Gerald Ford in 1974 for crimes he might have committed during the infamous Watergate scandal. The pardon was granted even though Nixon was not charged with (or convicted of) any federal crimes. It remains one of the most controversial presidential pardons ever granted.
G. Gordon Liddy
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Liddy for his role in organizing and directing the 1972 Watergate burglary. He’d been convicted in of burglary, conspiracy and for refusing to testify. Liddy served nearly five years of a 20-year sentence and later in life became an actor, writer and popular radio show host.
Vietnam Draft Dodgers
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued a pardon to hundreds of thousands of draft dodgers of the Vietnam War. It was effective for those who fled the U.S. or those who didn’t register for the draft. However, those who deserted, received dishonorable discharges or were civilian war protestors weren’t subject to the pardon.
In 1983, financier Marc Rich was charged with more than 50 counts of tax fraud after evading more than $48 million in taxes. To add insult to injury, he ran illegal oil deals with Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis. President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich on his final day in office in 2001.
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others that were connected with the Iran-Contra affair. They participated in the transfer of U.S. anti-tank missiles to Iran and Weinberger was charged with lying to the independent counsel after he resigned in 1987.
In 1989, President Ronald Reagan pardoned George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees. His crime? He was indicted in 1974 on 14 criminal counts of conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. He pled guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiring to make illegal contributions.