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Did President Obama Issue Clemency to 18,000 People?
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Did President Obama Issue Clemency to 18,000 People?

A claim by Joe Biden is exaggerated by a factor of almost 10.

On Monday night, Democratic nominee Joe Biden appeared on NBC for a live town hall discussion from Miami, where he took questions from anchor Lester Holt and a small audience of undecided voters.

During a segment on criminal justice reform, Holt brought up President Trump’s criticism of the Obama administration’s work on the matter. 

Holt told Biden: “He points out in a criminal justice reform bill. You and Barack Obama served at a time when you had both houses of Congress and still couldn’t get some of these things done.”

In response, Biden claimed that the Obama administration granted clemency to 18,000 people. “We let 18,000 people got [sic] clemency. He got two or three where he’s talking about,” said Biden. 

Although Obama granted clemency to more people than any other president since Truman, the number doesn’t come close to 18,000.

 According to statistics from the Department of Justice, during his presidency, Obama granted 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations for a total of 1,927 acts of clemency. These numbers come closest to Truman, who from 1945 to 1953 granted 1,913 pardons and 118 commutations, per the Department of Justice.

The Obama administration received an especially high number of clemency requests (pardons and commutations)—a total of 36,544. This surge in requests can be attributed, to some extent, to the 2014 Clemency Initiative, in which the Department of Justice encouraged “qualified federal intimates to have their sentences commuted, or reduced, by the President of the United States.” Indeed, Obama granted more commutations than any other president in the nation’s history. 

President Trump, by contrast, according to the Department of Justice, has granted 27 pardons and 11 commutations for a total of 38 acts of clemency thus far. 

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Photograph by Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.