Huckabee: I Made The Right Call Granting Clemency To Maurice Clemmons

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If Mike Huckabee enters the GOP presidential primary, his opponents will batter him over the case of Maurice Clemmons. Clemmons was a prisoner in Arkansas to whom Huckabee granted clemency, who went on to murder four people in Washington state.

Huckabee isn’t the first national political figure to face this line of attack. It often plagues former governors who run for president. And when it’s true,their response options are often limited. That said, at a round-table discussion with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, Huckabee rose to the moment and said he made the right decision.

“There was a kid who was 16 years old, he committed a burglary, he was aggravated, but not armed. And for that he got 108 years,” Huckabee said. “One-hundred-and-eight years.”By the time the file hit Huckabee’s desk, the culprit, Maurice Clemmons, had already served 11 of those years.

“And most people wouldn’t have served — they wouldn’t have even been sentenced to 11, much less served 11. It was clearly a disproportionate sentence, based on all the other cases like his,” Huckabee said. “Quite honestly, I’d love to tell you this isn’t true, but that kid was black. And if he’d been white, and upper-middle class and had a good attorney he wouldn’t have served a day. He’d have had probation, he’d have gone to see a counselor, and he’d probably gone to college, and he’d probably be on Wall St. making a couple billion bucks a year.”

After Clemmons was released, he murdered four people in the Seattle area. Huckabee thinks state officials in Washington and Arkansas made errors after Clemmons’ release, and that he should have been picked up for other infractions before he committed the murders. Huckabee says he wasn’t a mind reader, and based on the information in front of him, he made the right decision.

“If I had the same file in front of me today that I had then, I would make the same decision, and I would like to think — God help us when we get to the place when the only decisions we make are the ones that are in our own political self-interest,” Huckabee said.

Given the facts of this case, Huckabee has some incentive to flip the narrative on his attackers, and surely that’s part of this story. But it’s also a daring move, given how incarceration-happy his GOP rivals generally are.

“The smart play on my part politically would be to never have touched ever ever ever any clemency case,” he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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