WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour on Sunday blamed political opponents for much of the uproar set off after he pardoned more than 200 criminals.
State leaders often issue pardons in their waning days in office but the number of pardons by Barbour as he finished his term as governor on January 10 was unusually high. Those pardoned included murderers and the move set off a firestorm of criticism with Barbour's successor, Phil Bryant, proposing changes in the pardon process and a judge blocking release of pardoned prisoners.
In an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" program Sunday Barbour, a Republican, said his pardons had been misrepresented.
"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'd let some 200 people out of the penitentiary," he said. "We had 26 people out of the penitentiary ... half of them for health reasons.
"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."
Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat in a statewide office in Mississippi, has filed a complaint alleging that 156 of the pardons were unconstitutional because not enough public notice was given. A state judge has scheduled a hearing for Monday.
Barbour cited Hood in the controversy over the pardons.
"It is becoming public now that the attorney general's office was very involved in this," he said.
The pardons also have come under scrutiny on racial grounds. About two-thirds of the pardons went to white prisoners while two-thirds of Mississippi's prison population is black.
(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jackie Frank)