Thursday, December 25, 2008

Presidential Pardons

Marc Rich

In the past few days, President Bush has issued several pardons. One has been hastily revoked when it was learned that the parents of one of the recipients had contributed to the Republican Party. While I believe that Bush acted in good faith, the whole idea of presidential pardons is somewhat troubling to me.

One of the concerns I have is who gets a pardon and who doesn't. What considerations go into this decision? No matter how well-intentioned, there will be cases of some who don't get pardons being more deserving than some who got them.

The most egregious example of bad pardons was in the last days of the Clinton Administration. There were cases of Clinton brother, Roger, brokering pardon deals in exchange for money, one of Hillary's brothers doing the same, the infamous Marc Rich pardon and the Hasidic Jews who were pardoned in apparent exchange for that New York community delivering the votes for Hillary's Senate campaign. (If anyone out there thinks I am making a bogus charge, feel free to weigh in.) In my mind, Bill Clinton actually sold pardons out of the White House, and I will go to my grave in that belief. Why wasn't it fully investigated? Probably because George Bush didn't want that kind of distraction as he took office.

It seems to me that presidential pardons should be reserved for special cases in which the President truly believes that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, an archaic law has been too strenuously applied, or someone in prison has served too long a sentence for their crime. By those standards, I supported Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. I also feel that Bush should commute the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, the two Border Patrol agents who are in prison for shooting a fleeing drug smuggler at the Mexican border.

What about the pardon President Ford gave to Richard Nixon? I am somewhat ambiguous on that one. True, Nixon broke the law and subverted our system of justice. I also believe that no one should be above the law. Ford stated (and I accepted his word) that he did it to help the nation put Watergate behind us.) If the whole scandal wasn't bad enough, a trial would have really torn the country apart. Based on my vivid recollections of the affair (I was living in the DC area during a large part of the scandal), I don't think Nixon would have gotten a fair trial. I still remember the scenes of crowds outside the courthouse when people like Halderman, Erlichman and Mitchell were arraigned. It was not pretty. So I give the benefit of the doubt to Ford on that one.

Not so with Jimmy Carter, who pardoned folk singer Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary), who served 3 months in jail for "taking improper liberties" with a 14 year old fan. Yarrow stated after the pardon that he could now face the children in his family. (I am paraphrasing.) As if the pardon meant that the crime never occurred.

At any rate, that is how I feel about pardons. There should be nothing traditional about them. When did we decide that a president was expected to issue pardons in his last days in office? They should be exceptional, and there should be a valid justification behind them. In the absence of that, I think the president should not even be bothered with them.

1 comment:

Findalis said...

There are some who have reformed so well that a pardon should be in order, and others that should rot in jail forever.

Yes, the Clinton's sold pardons. The reason that Pollack is still in jail is because they couldn't come up with enough cash to release him (a couple of millions of dollars I do believe).

A good thing about Presidential Pardons is that the President cannot pardon himself. Remember that when Obama is convicted. It could be very funny to see him try to get a pardon then.