the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

January 21, 2008

A Pardon a Day Keeps the Impeachment Away


And other maxims of the right.

After seeing There Will be Blood, a few of us huddled in Georgetown’s Alamo Grill for a meal of chips, and well… mostly chips. I’d really hate to see how slow the kitchen is on a busy night.

At any rate, in a typically wide-ranging conversation someone touched on the subject of presidential pardons. Would Bush issue pardons for political cronies? Given that’s one of those questions that answer themselves, more generally, would Bush issue a blanket pardon for the entire Executive branch?

Personally, I find the area of presidential pardons to be very interesting. This wikipedia article is a starting point. (Though, given the controversial nature of the subject matter, it really needs to be taken with a grain of salt.)

One thing that the article mentions, supported by Bob Woodward’s Shadow, is that accepting a pardon implies an admission of guilt. See also this NYT article on Ford’s defense of his pardoning of Nixon:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 — President Gerald R. Ford was never one for second-guessing, but for many years after leaving office in 1977, he carried in his wallet a scrap of a 1915 Supreme Court ruling. A pardon, the excerpt said, “carries an imputation of guilt,” and acceptance of a pardon is “a confession of it.”

Note that Bush didn’t pardon Scooter Libby. To do so would jeopardize Libby’s defense in Joe Wilson’s civil suit. Instead, he commuted Libby’s sentence.

Note also that Carter’s blanket amnesty for draft evaders was really a pardon (see here). Here, there was not a disagreement over whether draft evaders had broken the law- they clearly had. And, it could be that the argument would be similar for a potential blanket pardon of Bushies: it’s not really a crime to break an unjust law. That is, of course, a rhetorical defense and not a legal defense.

I’d say there’s an unexplored question over how blanket a blanket pardon can be. I think we can all agree that Bush couldn’t issue an executive pardon for all Republicans until the end of time. But, he may be able to issue a blanket pardon for his favorite 12,500 people in his administration. (See this 1974 Time Magazine article. 12,500 was the minimum number that Carter’s pardon applied to.)

Now, getting back to our conversation in the Alamo Grill we all agreed that a President Kucinich would challenge such a pardon. Would a President Obama or Clinton? It seems to me a worthwhile question to ask these candidates while we still have their attention.

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