Biden pardons Chicagoan Abraham Bolden, first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail

Bolden “has steadfastly maintained his innocence, arguing that he was targeted for prosecution in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the U.S. Secret Service,” the White House said.

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Abraham Bolden at his South Side home Tuesday afternoon. Bolden was one of three people pardoned by President Biden and was the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a White House detail. He was charged with offenses related to attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file.

Abraham Bolden at his South Side home Tuesday afternoon. Bolden was one of three people pardoned by President Biden and was the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a White House detail. He was charged with offenses related to attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday pardoned Abraham Bolden, the Chicago man who was the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a White House detail, who maintained charges against him that led to prison time were trumped up.

Bolden “has steadfastly maintained his innocence, arguing that he was targeted for prosecution in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the U.S. Secret Service,” the White House said in announcing Biden’s clemency actions.

Biden pardoned three people, including Bolden and commuted the sentences of 75 other people serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, who under current guidelines would be serving less time.

“Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities,” Biden said in a statement to mark “Second Chance Month.”

Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, in 1964 as he prepared to appear before a judge after being suspended and charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant.

Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, in 1964 as he prepared to appear before a judge after being suspended and charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant.

Sun-Times file photo

For Bolden, 87, who served on President John F. Kennedy’s detail, the pardon was a long time coming.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell made the case for a pardon in a January column headlined “It’s long past time to finally clear first White House Black Secret Service agent’s name,”

Bolden, Mitchell noted, “chronicled his journey from a ‘first’ to a ‘disgraced’ Secret Service agent in his 2008 memoir ‘The Echo from Dealey Plaza.’”

As Mitchell wrote, “After he complained about agents drinking on the job and showing up unfit for duty and after he threatened to reveal the agency’s shortcomings in protecting the president, he was charged with bribery in a case involving a counterfeiting defendant. After being tried twice, he was convicted in 1966 and was sentenced to six years in federal prison. He served three years and nine months behind bars.”

In an April 2021 column, Mitchell noted that “an assignment that should have brought Bolden great honor ended up causing him greater harm. In his memoir, Bolden describes overt racist acts that began upon his arrival. His assignment became a nightmare after he complained about agents drinking on the job, chasing women and showing up unfit for duty.

“But he became a real problem for the Secret Service when he threatened to reveal the agency’s shortcomings in guarding the president. After doing that, he was charged with bribery in a case involving a counterfeiting defendant, tried twice, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

“While Bolden’s life story might sound like a conspiracy theory to some, Black Americans will identify with the brand of injustice that buries its victims under false accusations and legal documents.”

Abraham Bolden at his South Side home Tuesday afternoon.

Abraham Bolden at his South Side home Tuesday afternoon.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The White House, in a document detailing Biden’s clemency actions, described the Bolden case this way:

“In 1964, Mr. Bolden was charged with offenses related to attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, and following his conviction at a second trial, even though key witnesses against him admitted to lying at the prosecutor’s request, Mr. Bolden was denied a new trial and ultimately served several years in federal custody.

“He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, arguing that he was targeted for prosecution in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the U.S. Secret Service. Mr. Bolden has received numerous honors and awards for his ongoing work to speak out against the racism he faced in the Secret Service in the 1960s, and his courage in challenging injustice. Mr. Bolden has also been recognized for his many contributions to his community following his release from prison.”

Mitchell reported in her January column, Bolden “sought a pardon from three presidents — Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and others have worked on his behalf as well.”

A pardon in the federal system is defined, according to the Department of Justice, as an “expression of the President’s forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence. It does not signify innocence. It does, however, remove civil disabilities — e.g., restrictions on the right to vote, hold state or local office, or sit on a jury — imposed because of the conviction for which pardon is sought, and should lessen the stigma arising from the conviction.”

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