Huckabee on DuMond: It's Clinton's fault

But a former aide undercuts the GOP candidate's story on a rapist's release.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 6, 2007 1:46PM (EST)

Although Mike Huckabee once wrote a letter to Wayne DuMond in which he said he wanted the convicted rapist "released from prison" and thought that "parole is the best way" for him to rejoin society, the former Arkansas governor and current GOP presidential candidate insisted at a news conference Wednesday that he never pressured the Arkansas parole board to let DuMond go free.

Two problems with Huckabee's claim: Two members of the parole board have refuted it on the record previously, and a former senior Huckabee aide -- who attended the parole board meeting in which Huckabee discussed the DuMond case -- is refuting it now.

Huckabee argues, correctly, that an Arkansas governor has no power to grant parole to a convict himself; a governor can only commute his sentence. In 1992, Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker -- acting when then Gov. Bill Clinton was out of the state campaigning -- commuted DuMond's life sentence to one of 39 years. Shortly after Huckabee took office in 1996, he announced his intention to commute DuMond's sentence further, reducing it to time served and freeing him from prison.

But Huckabee's announcement drew a public outcry, and the new governor faced a dilemma: Follow through on his plans and suffer the political consequences of making an unpopular decision, or abandon the commutation plan and leave DuMond in prison. Four days before Huckabee's legally imposed deadline to decide, the Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board gave him an out by ordering DuMond released on parole.

The board's decision came after a closed-door, off-the-record meeting with Huckabee and one of his aides in October 1996. During that meeting, former board member Charles Chastain said in 2001, Huckabee "made it obvious that he thought DuMond had gotten a raw deal and wanted us to take another look at it. Another former board member, Deborah Springer Suttlar, told journalist Murray Waas in 2002: "For Gov. Huckabee to say that he had no influence with the board is something that he knows to be untrue. He came before the board and made his views known that [DuMond] should have been paroled." A third board member, Ermer Pondexter, told Waas in 2002 that she voted for DuMond's parole because the chairman of the parole board asked her to do so -- and that she believed he was "acting on behalf of the governor."

Huckabee suggested Wednesday that the claims of the former board members are not credible, that they had changed their stories "in the middle of an election year" -- Huckabee was reelected in 2002 -- and "subsequent to the fact that I had not reappointed them to their $75,000 jobs on the parole board."

But Huckabee didn't address -- because they hadn't been published yet -- the charges made by Butch Reeves, his own former criminal justice counsel and chief counsel. As Waas reports in the Huffington Post, Reeves told him Wednesday that he attended the October 1996 parole board meeting with the governor. The "clear impression" he got from the meeting: Huckabee "favored DuMond's release. "And I can understand why board members would believe that to be the case." Reeves told Waas that Huckabee told the board that DuMond's prison sentence was "outlandish" and "way out of bounds for his crime," and that there had been "something nefarious" about how his case was handled.

Reeves characterized the meeting the same way in a telephone interview with ABC News Wednesday afternoon.

In his own interview with ABC Wednesday, Huckabee said that the resurfacing of the DuMond story amounts to "complete exploitation." "What a sad thing that in an election year, we're going to take the grief of these people ... and make this a political issue, and try to point fingers and blame," he said.

Finger-pointing? In an appearance on CBS this morning, Huckabee noted that the parole board members were "appointed by Bill Clinton, by Jim Guy Tucker," that "Jim Guy Tucker, in concert with Bill Clinton ... reduced [DuMond's] sentence," and that "it was Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker who actually commuted Mr. DuMond's sentence, making him parole eligible."

Huckabee made sure to mention Wednesday that Tucker was "convicted of Whitewater-related felonies." And just in case that wasn't enough, he noted in an interview on MSNBC this morning that some of the new attention to the DuMond case is being driven by Waas' reporting in the Huffington Post, "one of the most left-wing blogs in the blogosphere."

Update: In an appearance on NBC this morning, Huckabee was asked specifically about Reeves' characterization of the parole board meeting. He said Reeves' comments were "totally misrepresented by the blog report, a very liberal left-wing blog." Huckabee didn't acknowledge that Reeves' comments were reported exactly the same way by ABC News.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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