The Great Presidential Pardon Heist

Awarded by the Commander-in-Chief, presidential pardons override previous rulings handed down by any other federal judge or court. Some presidents are more generous with pardons than others, but overall, they’ve been granted with increasing frequency since Washington issued the first 16, including two for participants of the Whiskey Rebellion. By contrast, Barack Obama pardoned, commuted, or otherwise granted clemency to 1927 people.

Despite the increasing number, receiving a pardon is no easy task. First, there’s a required waiting period of five years. Applicants must write an essay about why they are seeking clemency, including documentation; they also need at least three character references, and they have to go through a “very thorough” federal review. And that’s just for starters.

However, if you’re determined to get a presidential pardon, there are other ways to go about obtaining one (though we don't recommend it)—as long as you don’t care whose name is on the certificate. Just ask Shawn Aubitz.

Some time in the middle of his 14-year career as a curator with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Aubitz realized he was sitting on a gold mine: The files, letters, maps, and photographs he handled every day could command big bucks from the right collectors. From 1996-1999, he pulled off the historical heist of the century simply by surreptitiously slipping documents into his briefcase. Over the three-year period, Aubitz made off with hundreds of items, including 64 pardons and 316 photos taken by astronauts.

Though the number is rather staggering, the thefts weren’t discovered until 2000, when a National Park Service employee noticed a suspicious item for sale on eBay and notified the National Archives about the auction. The National Archives Office of the Inspector General quickly took action and discovered a total of four National Archives documents on eBay. The items were traced to Aubitz, who pled guilty to the crimes in 2002. In court, Aubitz blamed his actions on “a compulsive need to amass collections for self-esteem and approval,” but also admitted that his motives were financial—he used more than $200,000 in ill-gotten funds to pay his credit card debt. Aubitz served 21 months in prison for his crimes and paid $73,793 in restitution.

Because Aubitz provided the names of his buyers, many of the pilfered items were recovered, such as a warrant for the seizure of Robert E. Lee's estate during the Civil War. Many are still missing, however, including pardons issued by 10 presidents, from James Madison to Rutherford B. Hayes. So, history buffs, if you’re not totally sure about the origins of that Andrew Jackson-signed pardon hanging on your study wall, contact NARA at MissingDocuments@nara.gov.

10 Facts About Dwight D. Eisenhower

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

One of the most popular U.S. presidents in history, Dwight David Eisenhower won the presidency twice on the back of national adoration for his leadership in WWII as General of the Army. Eisenhower served as president from 1953 to 1961, during which time he significantly expanded the highway system, created NASA, and put five justices on the Supreme Court. Here are 10 facts about the Ike we like, who was born on this day in 1890.

1. HIS BIRTH NAME WAS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT, AND MIGHT HAVE BEEN CONFUSING.

We all recognize him as Dwight D. Eisenhower, but his birth name was David Dwight. The future president shared his father’s first name, but wasn't called a "junior" because he had a different middle name. Instead, his mother inverted the two monikers to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in one house and of having people mistakenly calling him "junior." His high school yearbook (and their family’s Bible) has his name written as David Dwight.

2. “IKE” IS THE ENTIRE FAMILY’S NICKNAME.

Speaking of names, it’s easy to assume that his nickname (as in “I like Ike”) came from his first name. But the nickname stems from Eisenhower, and it’s the nickname the whole family went by. All seven Eisenhower boys used it (Edgar was “Big Ike” while Dwight was actually “Little Ike”). Dwight was the only one still using the nickname by WWII.

3. HE NAMED CAMP DAVID AFTER HIS GRANDSON.

The Presidential getaway in Maryland was called “Shangri-La” by President Franklin Roosevelt after it was converted from a WPA-built government employee camp to a working retreat for the commander-in-chief. In 1953, Eisenhower renamed it Camp David, honoring both his father, David Jacob, and his 5-year-old grandson, Dwight David. It would later be the location of Eisenhower's meeting with Soviet Union head Nikita Khrushchev to discuss the Cold War in 1959.

4. HE QUIT SMOKING BY SURROUNDING HIMSELF WITH CIGARETTES.

Eisenhower smoked three or four packs of cigarettes a day, picking up the habit while he was a student at West Point and quitting only a few years before he became President. His initial attempt involved excising tobacco and the related accoutrements from his daily life, but it didn’t work, so he went in the other direction. “I decided to make a game of the whole business and try to achieve a feeling of some superiority when I saw others smoking while I no longer did,” he said. The politician crammed cigarettes and lighters into every nook of his office. “I made it a practice to offer a cigarette to anyone who came in and I lighted each while mentally reminding myself as I sat down, ‘I don’t have to do what that poor fellow is doing.’"

5. BOTH PARTIES WANTED HIM TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT.

In 1945, President Truman began nudging Eisenhower toward running for president, and two years later, promised to be his running mate on the Democratic ticket in the 1948 election. Eisenhower refused, claiming he had no ambition for the job, but by the 1952 election, both parties were begging him to be their candidate. The public didn’t know Eisenhower’s party affiliation until he declared himself a Republican in 1951, at which time the “Draft Eisenhower” efforts resumed and intensified on the GOP side. In January 1952, Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. submitted Eisenhower’s name to the New Hampshire Republican primary without Eisenhower’s permission, which forced the general to make a public statement. He declared that he wasn’t actively seeking the nomination, but that he’d serve if asked. After 25,000 showed up for a rally at Madison Square Garden and Eisenhower bested far right Senator Robert Taft in the New Hampshire primary, Eisenhower announced an official candidacy, saying, “Any American who would have that many other Americans pay him that compliment would be proud or he would not be an American.”

It turns out the Democrats were doomed as soon as Eisenhower said he was a Republican. He won against Adlai Stevenson in a 442 to 89 landslide. Not bad, considering he beat Stevenson again in 1956, 457 electoral votes to 73.

6. HE PRESIDED OVER DESEGREGATING THE MILITARY AND THE SCHOOLS.

President Truman started the process of desegregating the military in 1948, but President Eisenhower completed it by actively campaigning, using budgets as leverage, and declaring racial discrimination a national security issue. In a bold move, Eisenhower also briefly federalized the Arkansas National Guard and committed the 101st Airborne Division to protect nine black students as they attended, for the first time since Reconstruction, an all-white school in Little Rock after Governor Orval Faubus refused to comply with the desegregating court order handed down in Brown v. Board of Education.

7. ALASKA AND HAWAII BECAME STATES UNDER HIS WATCH.

After Arizona was admitted to the Union in 1912, the United States went 47 years with 48 stars on the flag. The United States had purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 and annexed Hawaii in 1898, but it took Eisenhower campaigning on the issue of statehood and the right Congressional environment for both to make the leap from territory to state. Congress thought Alaska, with its oil riches, should come first, but Eisenhower was worried the new state would disrupt his plans to set up military installations close to Soviet Russia. Congress won out. Alaska was admitted January 3, 1959, and Hawaii eight months later on August 21.

8. HE WAS THE FIRST PRESIDENT CONSTITUTIONALLY PREVENTED FROM SEEKING A THIRD TERM.

Until Franklin Roosevelt, no President served more than two terms, but the man who dragged the United States out of the Depression and on to victory in WWII was elected to serve four. The Twenty-second Amendment was congressionally approved on March 24, 1947, in direct response to his electoral success. The states didn’t complete the ratification process until February 27, 1951. Since it passed while he was in office, President Harry Truman was grandfathered in (although it didn’t matter because he was profoundly unpopular by the end of his second term), so President Eisenhower became the first to be affected by the amendment. He was also the first to be affected by the Former Presidents Act, which gave him a lifetime pension, paid staff, and security detail.

9. HE LEFT ACTIVE DUTY TO BECOME PRESIDENT AND RETURNED TO ACTIVE DUTY WHEN HIS TERM WAS OVER.

Though he never saw active combat, Eisenhower’s military career spanned WWI and WWII. After graduating from West Point he served in logistics and, later, infantry units located stateside, and after the United States entered WWI, he trained tank crews in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He languished after the war, spending 12 years as a major, but he also served as chief military aide to then-Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, and acted as commanding officer for the 15th Infantry at Fort Lewis and chief of staff to then-Commander of the Third Army General Walter Krueger during his climb up the promotion ladder to Colonel. By the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was already a Brigadier General (one star) in a command role that would have kept him far from the battlefield.

Still, Eisenhower was one of only nine Americans to reach the five-star rank as General of the Army, the second-highest possible Army rank. As a rule, Generals of the Army never retire but remain on active duty status until they die. That's why President John F. Kennedy signed a Public Law on March 22, 1961 returning Eisenhower to active duty at his five-star rank following Ike’s presidential service. You may have seen the insignia of the General of the Army (five stars in the shape of the star) posted on highway signs commemorating Eisenhower’s military service and infrastructure expansion.

10. HE MADE OVER 200 PAINTINGS.

After showing interest in the craft when his wife Mamie sat for a portrait, then-president of Columbia University Eisenhower received a paint kit from the artist Thomas E. Stephens. Still, it wasn’t until he was 58 (and when Winston Churchill encouraged him) that Eisenhower took up painting seriously as a hobby. The former President made at least 250 paintings, but had a self-deprecating sense about his art. At an exhibition of his work at the Huntington Hartford Museum in 1967, a reporter asked Eisenhower about the symbolism of one of the works. Eisenhower replied, “They would have burned this sh*t a long time ago if I weren’t the President of the United States.”

11 Inspiring Facts About Eleanor Roosevelt

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 11, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City. Her lifetime achievements are almost too numerous to list, but these amazing facts should remind you why she’s still celebrated as one of America’s finest first ladies and diplomats.

1. ELEANOR WAS HER MIDDLE NAME.

From a very young age, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt much preferred her middle name and would usually introduce herself by it as she grew older. For the record, Roosevelt wasn’t wild about her childhood nickname either: Her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, found the girl comically old-fashioned and often referred to her as "Granny."

2. SHE WAS ORPHANED AT A VERY YOUNG AGE.

Eleanor Roosevelt as a young girl
Getty Images

When Anna Roosevelt passed away in 1892, her husband Elliott, who struggled with alcoholism, was exiled from the family. Following these tragic events, 8-year-old Eleanor was left in the care of her maternal grandmother, Valentine Hall. Unable to shake his demons, Elliott (Teddy Roosevelt’s younger brother) attempted suicide by jumping out of a window in 1894. Despite surviving this fall, he suffered a seizure shortly thereafter and died on August 14, 1894—leaving his children parentless.

3. SHE LOVED FIELD HOCKEY.

What did Roosevelt consider the happiest day of her life? The day she made her private school’s field hockey team.

4. ON HER WEDDING DAY, THEN-PRESIDENT TEDDY ROOSEVELT WALKED HER DOWN THE AISLE.

FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt
Getty Images

“I am as fond of Eleanor as if she were my daughter,” Teddy Roosevelt once wrote of his niece. On March 17, 1905—just a few months into his second term—the Bull Moose had the honor of giving Eleanor away on her wedding day. “Well, Franklin,” the commander-in-chief later joked to her new spouse, and his cousin, “there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”  

5. SHE ORGANIZED SEVERAL WOMEN-ONLY WHITE HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCES.

At the time FDR was first elected president, female journalists had traditionally been excluded from serious media events at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eleanor helped to somewhat level the playing field by hosting a series of ladies-only press conferences, which pressured papers into hiring more women reporters and helped Eleanor win over female voters on behalf of her husband. 

6. SHE ONCE WENT FLYING WITH AMELIA EARHART.

The courageous aviator inspired Eleanor to apply for her very own piloting license and even took the First Lady out for an airborne spin from D.C. to Baltimore in 1933. Years later, after Earhart unexpectedly vanished, a grief-stricken Roosevelt told the press “I am sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

7. SHE WROTE A SYNDICATED NEWSPAPER COLUMN FOR 27 YEARS.

Eleanor Roosevelt gives a speech
Getty Images

From 1935 to 1962, Eleanor composed six weekly articles about her political views and personal life. Simply entitled “My Day,” the column featured Roosevelt’s musings on such topics as Prohibition, Pearl Harbor, and Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt. A disciplined professional, Eleanor missed only a single week’s worth of material, following her husband’s untimely death in 1945.   

8. SHE DEFIED BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA'S SEGREGATION LAWS IN A POWERFUL PROTEST.

In 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare held its inaugural meeting in Alabama’s “Magic City.” Upon her arrival, Roosevelt sat directly beside an African American associate, ignoring the designated whites-only section en route. After being told that Birmingham’s segregationist policies prohibited whites and blacks from sitting together at public functions, the First Lady asked for a ruler.

“Now measure the distance between this chair and that one,” she said after somebody produced one. Upon examining this gap separating the white and black seating areas, the first lady placed her chair directly in its center. There she defiantly sat, in a racial no-man’s land, until the meeting concluded. “They were afraid to arrest her,” one witness claimed.

9. SHE STARRED IN A MARGARINE COMMERCIAL.

In fact, Roosevelt advertised a range of products—from mattresses to hot dogs. Her appearance in the 1959 TV spot above helped establish margarine as one of America’s favorite spreads. This appearance netted the former first lady $35,000, which she used to purchase 6000 care packages for impoverished families.

10. SHE HELPED DRAFT THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS.

Harry S. Truman appointed Roosevelt as a United Nations delegate in 1946. In this role, she became a driving force behind the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which over 50 member-states eventually worked together to compose.

11. SHE EARNED 35 HONORARY DEGREES.

FDR, meanwhile, only received 31 Among the institutions which bestowed degrees upon the First Lady-turned diplomat were Russell Sage College, the John Marshall College of Law, and Oxford University.

This article originally ran in 2014.

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