Former Arkansas governor and top GOP presidential prospect Mike Huckabee tells Newsmax that if a decision he made nine years ago to commute the sentence of suspected cop-killer Maurice Clemmons ends his political career, "So be it."
"The politics of it are irrelevant to me," Huckabee told Newsmax on Tuesday in an e-mail exchange. "I think the total focus should be directed toward those grieving families. If making that decision nine years ago ends my political career, then so be it."
On Sunday, a lone gunman walked into a Lakewood, Wash.-area coffee shop and opened fire, killing four police officers who were completing their pre-shift paperwork.
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Early Tuesday morning, police shot and killed Clemmons, the lone suspect, in south Seattle.
"I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago," Huckabee wrote in an exclusive commentary written for Newsmax and posted on Monday evening. "I acted on the facts presented to me in 2000. If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. But if the same file was presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision."
In his statement to Newsmax, Huckabee also addressed the many incorrect reports and rumors swirling around his decision to reduce Clemmons' sentence,
"Many news reports, talk show hosts, and bloggers have erroneously said that he was granted a 'pardon,'" Huckabee wrote. "Others speak of me 'setting him free.'"
Clemmons was sentenced to serve 108 years in prison for burglary and robbery at age 16. He served 11 years in prison before Huckabee, in his role as Arkansas' governor, reduced his sentence to 47 years. That ruling made Clemmons eligible for parole.
Following the news of the deadly shootings, some columnists and bloggers on the right hammered away at Huckabee's decision to commute the sentence.
Huckabee's critics have compared the incident to the controversial Willie Horton furlough that derailed the 1988 candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee.
In the 1988 presidential race, Dukakis had to explain his support for a controversial weekend furlough program that permitted Willie Horton, a convicted murderer not eligible for parole, to leave the prison. Horton did not return from furlough and later assaulted and raped a Maryland woman.
Political historians say, however, that what actually torpedoed Dukakis wasn't the clemency issue, but rather his dispassionate response during a debate to a hypothetical question about whether he would favor capital punishment if his wife were raped.
In Huckabee's situation, the decision to free Clemmons actually was made by the parole board. Huckabee simply reduced the sentence, in accord with parole-board recommendations. But reducing Clemmons' sentence made him parole-eligible.
That was but one of approximately 1,200 clemency requests Huckabee received annually as governor, 92 percent of which he denied.
What Huckabee could not anticipate when he made that decision was the chain of justice-system breakdowns involving Clemmons that ultimately had catastrophic results. Among them: Clemmons violated his Arkansas parole in March 2001 and committed aggravated robbery and theft, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report. After those crimes he was sent back to prison. According to The Los Angeles Times, he should have remained in jail until 2015. Huckabee wrote: "For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, charges were not brought forth in a timely way and the prosecutor ended up dropping the charges, allowing him to leave prison and return to supervised parole." According to the Times, the parole board unanimously approved Clemmons' second parole request in 2004, and he was released.Clemmons moved to Seattle in 2004. For about five years thereafter, Clemmons reportedly did not have any serious criminal problems. In May, however, he punched a sheriff's deputy in the face, leading to seven counts of assault and malicious mischief," the Seattle Times reports. For several months prior to the shootings, he had been held in Pierce County jail, charged with second-degree rape of a child, according to the Seattle Times. About 10 days ago, Clemmons put up $15,000, part of the $150,000 bail needed to win his release from jail. He was allowed to leave prison.At the time of the shootings, Clemmons had been charged with at least eight felonies while living in Washington state.
In recent days, pundits have begun suggesting Huckabee may no longer be a viable GOP presidential candidate due to his 2000 commutation of Clemmons' sentence.
Huckabee is considered especially vulnerable on the issue. In 1996 after he was first elected, Huckabee expressed support for granting clemency to Wayne DuMond, who had been sentenced to life in prison for raping a 17-year-old girl. Huckbee did not pardon DuMond, but discussed his case privately with the parole board. The board voted to release DuMond, who moved to Missouri. Two years later, he was convicted of raping and killing a 39-year-old woman.
On MSNBC's “Morning Joe” program on Tuesday, host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, remarked: "Conservatives have just savaged Mike Huckabee. I’ve gotta say it really does present great challenges for his presidential campaign, to say the least. Not to boil this down to crass political terms -- it’s a great tragedy out there. But I don’t see how Mike Huckabee survives politically."
Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, a Democrat who regularly appears on the program, chimed in, "I think in any primary this would be difficult... this will be damaging."
The GOP establishment never fully embraced Huckabee's surprising emergence as a top contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. He recently remarked that he probably wouldn't consider another run for the presidency unless he thought he could get wide support from party leaders.
On Tuesday, Huckabee suggested that he finds the media emphasis on how the shootings might affect his political career to be misplaced. The focus should be on the police officers' grieving families, he said.
"I tried to never make decisions so as to affect my political life, but to do what I believed was right," Huckabee told Newsmax. "I don’t regret that. I do regret that four officers are dead."
[Editor’s Note: Read Mike Huckabee’s Newsmax exclusive: “I Take Full Responsibility” for Granting Alleged Cop Killer Clemency — Go here now.
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