Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pardon me! Who gets the golden ticket when Bush vacates the White House?

More than 2,000 people have so far asked President George W. Bush to pardon them or commute their prison sentences as a parting gift.

Junk-bond king Michael Milken, big media owner Conrad Black and the American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh (good luck on that one John!) have asked the Justice Department for Presidential forgiveness.

Of course, some highly placed lawyers lobby the White House directly for pardons. This includes people who haven't even been charged with a crime yet, like the disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or that hormone-gobbling baseball pitcher Roger Clemens.

"I would expect the president's conservative approach to executive pardons to continue through the remainder of his term," said Helgi C. Walker, a former Bush associate White House counsel. And, in fact, Bush so far has pardoned far fewer people than his predecessors. A President can pardon people at any time, but generally wait until the end of their administrations for the most sensitive ones, typically before Christmas and after New Year's. An exception was President Ford pardoning Nixon. Nixon was on the hot seat and without that pardon would have been hauled in and out of court endlessly over the next few years. Instead, he got to write books, and consult presidents on up through Bill Clinton.

Last week, The President issued 14 pardons and commuted two sentences--for small-time drug offenses, tax evasion and unauthorized use of food stamps. His eight-year total is 171 pardons and eight commutations--less than half what either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton issued.

A pardon is a free pass that eliminates civil liabilities stemming from a criminal conviction. A commutation reduces or ends a criminal sentence. The president's constitutional power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled; can forgive anyone he wants, at any time. Thus there is always the possibility of surprises!

click to enlarge the Nixon-Ford pardon

Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, pardoned Reagan-era Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who was indicted in the Iran-Contra arms scandal. Weinberger's indictment by a special counsel days before the 1992 presidential election is believed to have contributed to Bush's defeat.

President Gerald Ford narrowly lost re-election in 1976 in no small part due to pardoning former President Dick Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

Bush earlier saved I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from serving any time in the case of the 2003 leak of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice. He has not yet applied for a full pardon.

I believe President Bush could also pardon himself, as well as the vampire he selected as his Vice-President.

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