President Bush has granted the lowest number of pardons of any president in 60 years, federal records show, but a one-time Tennessee moonshiner was lucky enough to be given one of them this Christmas.
Through November, Bush had signed 58 pardons during nearly five years in office. That compares to 74 by his father, President George H. W. Bush, who served four years, and 1,913 by Harry Truman over nearly eight years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.
“Each application is evaluated on its merits,” said John Nowacki, a lawyer at the Department of Justice.
Bush signed 11 additional pardons Dec. 20, including one for Carl E. Cantrell, 57, of Monteagle, Tenn., who was arrested at a mountaintop moonshine still in 1966. He was 19, convicted of a felony, and sentenced to three years of probation.
Asked about his pardon, Cantrell said in an interview: “It was the biggest relief I ever had. Really, to tell you the truth, I thought that nothing would be done about it.”
The presidential pardons restore full U.S. citizenship, including the rights to vote and to buy a gun, said Russell “Rusty” Leonard, Cantrell’s attorney. Criminal records will reflect both a felony conviction and the pardon, he said.
Cantrell said he and two friends were just looking for a way to make extra money when they experimented with a still in 1966.
“It don’t take a genius to make it,” he said. He had heard recipes over the years. But after working about three weeks to perfect their product, they were arrested at the still by federal agents before they had sold a drop, he said.
Many years passed by. Then, more than two years ago he tried to buy a deer rifle for his grandson and the routine background check rejected his purchase due to a felony on his record, he said.
An employee of the city of Monteagle, Cantrell hired Leonard, a Winchester, Tenn., attorney. He wanted to pursue a presidential pardon. They collected affidavits from his business contacts and friends, as required by the federal process, completed a long application form and filed it about two years ago.
Tuesday a Department of Justice official called Leonard. ” ‘Mr. Leonard, I think we have a Christmas present for Carl Cantrell,’ ” Leonard recalled.
“I’m sorry that it took so long for us to work through the process,” the caller said.
There is no politics involved in the process, Leonard said. Cantrell said he is an independent who votes for the candidate, not the party.
“The bottom line is he was nothing but a kid when this happened,” Leonard said. “He’s never been in difficulties before, so he was a prime candidate for a pardon.”
Cantrell said he is looking forward to legally being able to vote and buy a gun. “I wasn’t trying to cause nobody no harm” in planning to sell moonshine. “I was just trying to make a living.”
He said he was impressed that the president would pay attention to his request for a pardon from the small town of Monteagle. “We can’t even get a weather report up here.”
(Contact Richard Powelson at PowelsonR(at)shns.com)