WASHINGTON -- President Reagan Wednesday pardoned W. Mark Felt and Edward Miller, two top former FBI officials convicted of approving break-ins during a 1970s hunt for radical anti-war fugitives.
It was the first use of Reagan's pardon power, and the president apparently granted the pardon without a formal request. Both men said they would do what they did again under the same circumstances.
Felt, 67, the FBI's No. 2 man, and Miller, 57, the chief of its intelligence unit, were fined a total of $8,500 on the charges, which could have carried a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in jail.
The two, Reagan said in a statement, served the FBI and the nation 'with great distinction' during their careers. 'To punish them further,' the statement continued, 'would not serve the ends of justice.'
'It's just like having a heavy burden lifted off our shoulders,' Felt said at a news conference.
Both men said, as they did after their convictions, they believed they were following established procedures and would, to this day, follow whatever procedures are in effect regarding secret break-ins.
'Knowing what I know now ... yes, I think that I would authorize a surreptitious entry where there was foreign involvement,' Felt said.
Miller said, 'I would do exactly what I did.'
In a brief statement, FBI director William Webster said, 'This will be welcome news to FBI employees throughout the country. This brings to a close a difficult chapter for the FBI and for the Felt and Miller families. We are grateful for the president's action.'
Dana Biberman, a longtime New York political activist who is suing for damages against Felt and Miller for their activities, said she was 'outraged' by Reagan's decision. 'This type of activity on the part of the FBI ... establishes the basis for these illegal counterintelligence activities to be heightened in the coming period,' she said.
Chief Justice Department spokesman Tom DeCair said the pardon was initiated by the White House, and there was no pardon application, which is normally submitted to the Justice Department for review and recommendation to the president.
'The president satisfied himself that this is a most appropriate action to be taken. I wholeheartedly approve,' Attorney General William French Smith said.
The pardon was officially signed by Reagan on March 26, four days before he was shot, Miller's lawyer said.
Acting White House press secretary Larry Speakes said Reagan 'saw no reason for these men to go through the lengthy and expensive appeals process.'
In his statement, Reagan recalled that 1972 was a time of war for the United States, and Felt and Miller 'followed procedures they believed essential' to keep the government abreast of the activities of 'hostile foreign powers and their collaborators in this country.'
Reagan said the two had never denied their actions, but had stepped forward to relieve subordinates from prosecution.
'Four years ago, thousands of draft evaders and others who violated the Selective Service laws were unconditionally pardoned by my predecessor,' Reagan said. 'American was generous to those who refused to serve their country in the Vietnam War.
'We can be no less generous to two men who acted on high principle to bring an end to the terrorism that was threatening our nation.'
Felt and Miller were convicted of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by authorizing government agents to break into homes secretly. Thebreak-ins were conducted during a search for fugitive members of the radical Weather Underground.
The November verdict in the U.S. District Court in Washington was the first conviction of high FBI officials. Felt was fined $5,000 and Miller $3,500.
The two men were indicted along with former acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray in 1978 on charges they approved the break-ins, known as 'black bag' jobs.
In December, a federal judge dismissed charges against Gray after the government said the evidence was unconvincing.
During the trial, Felt testified that shortly after Gray succeeded J. Edgar Hoover as acting director in May 1972, Gray gave his top aides 'general approval' to resume secret searches to combat terrorism.
Miller did not testify at the trial, which heard evidence from five former attorneys general and Richard Nixon.