(Photo: Reuters/Sean Gardner)
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Sunday lambasted his Democratic opponents for "misrepresenting" the pardons he granted to over 200 people before leaving office this month.
"Sure, we could have done it better because we had no idea that the reporting of it, in particular some of the misstatements by political opponents, would let the public think we were letting 200 some people out of the penitentiary," Barbour said during CBS's "Face the Nation" program Sunday.
The two-term governor left on Jan. 10 after filing the pardons and sentence commutations, including that of 17 murderers, with the secretary of state's office. Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, alleged the pardons violated the Constitution and went to court to stop the releases on the ground that they were not notified to the public as required by law. The release of 21 inmates was put on hold pending an enquiry.
"We let 26 out of the penitentiary ... half of them for health reasons," Barbour said. "Most of them had been out for years and years and years. They're no more a threat to the people of Mississippi now than they were the week before they got their pardon."
Of the 26 inmates still in custody, 10 were granted full pardons; 13 were released on medical grounds; one was granted suspension of sentence; one, conditional and indefinite suspension of sentence; and one, conditional clemency. Five of the murderers who were granted clemency worked as trusties in the governor's office.
Hood, the only Democrat serving in statewide office in the state, filed a complaint alleging that 156 of the pardons were unconstitutional because their notices fell short of the required 30 days of publication. Barbour has said it was only due to newspaper schedules.
"It is becoming public now that the attorney general's office was very involved in this," Barbour said.
The former Republican governor's critics have also accused him of being "racist," as about two-thirds of those pardoned were white prisoners, an allegation that he has denied.
Barbour earlier questioned why Hood didn't raise any objection when former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove released convicted killers who worked at the Governor's Mansion. He also clarified that inmates assigned by the Mississippi Department of Corrections to work at the governor's office are mostly men who committed crimes of passion and do not have criminal tendencies.
He said he had "absolute confidence" in those released and that "I'd let my grandchildren play with these five men." As an evangelical Christian, he said, he believes in forgiveness and the power of a second chance.
"The historical power of clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of giving second chances," Boston Herald earlier quoted him as saying.
Barbour took office in 2004, after working for the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 and aiding in both the Reagan administration and campaign of George H.W. Bush. He is currently on the paid speakers' circuit and works for a Jackson law firm as well as BGR Group, a lobbying firm.