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February 17, 2008

More remembering of the Clinton pardon ugliness

Thanks to this post at Pardon Power, I see another commentary today recalling the pardon scandal that Bill Clinton created his last day as president.  Though this op-ed, titled "Remembering and then forgetting the Clintons," covers a range of issues, and these excerpts highlight the pardon story:

Before Bill and Hillary jetted to their new New York home following George W. Bush's inauguration, he told supporters and former administration officials at a crowded Andrews Air Force Base hangar, "We are not going anywhere!"... The thought at the time was that he who would be free of the White House's trappings and scandals and could help propel the Democrats back to power as the majority party in Congress. 

But, when presented with a fresh start, Clinton made no use of it.  The same clouds of scandal and controversy, which cast shadows over HIS entire presidency set in at the beginning of his post-presidency.  Clinton garnered unwanted publicity for a greedy duo of mini-scandals first, by lifting several thousands of dollars of White House furniture and his pursuance of a high-priced office in a palatial New York City high-rise. 

Then there was his pardon of fugitive-financier Marc Rich, who had been on the run for evading millions of dollars in taxes and doing business with the Iranian government while it held American hostages? There was an indissoluble link between the pardon and the millions of dollars given to the Clintons by Rich's ex-wife, Denise, through campaign contributions, donations to the presidential library and even personal gifts. Despite his assurances at the time to the contrary, the pardon had all the appearances of a quid pro quo.  Clinton was on his own, calling friendly reporters and opinion-makers trying to explain his pardon.

Democrats, who had defended all of Clinton's intolerable actions in office, openly castigated the former president. Daily, Democratic members of Congress made the rounds on the 24-hour cable news channels to express their disgust for Clintons' departing actions.  Even The New York Times reported at the time that the Clinton/Rich scandal had a dramatic impact on the Democratic Party's fund-raising efforts. Various donors, who were being hit up at the time for campaign cash, cited the "cash for pardons" scandal as a key factor in their decision not to give.

Shortly after he left office Democrats just wanted Clinton to go away, becausethey'd had enough.  Just last week, Hillary all but guaranteed that her husband wouldn't be the source of scandal in her White House if she was elected president. How could she be so confident?  She can't control him when he's out on the campaign trail.

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February 17, 2008 at 02:13 PM | Permalink


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The Bush administration has been so flagrantly corrupt that the old Clinton foibles don't seem so objectionable any more. I'm actually nostalgic for the days when all we had to worry about was whether millionaire financiers were buying clemency.

Posted by: fhqwaghads | Feb 17, 2008 2:44:23 PM

You make a good point. John Deutsch's mishandling of critical intelligence information was really the good old days.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Feb 17, 2008 11:03:36 PM

Oh yeah, John Deutsh was awful. And so unlike the diligence with which George W. and Condi R. took heed of the pre-9/11 briefins regarding Bin Laden and Al Qaeda . . . the need to be prepared for the fall of Saddam Hussein after we captured his WMDs . . . .

I'm always astonished at the outrage about Clinton's pardons from those who had no apparent problem at all with George H.W. pardoning Cap Weinberger, a key witness to his own obstruction of the Iran-Contra inquiry (and, thus, himself) . . .

Posted by: DYN | Feb 18, 2008 2:47:07 PM

These comments illustrate why the discussion is useless. The president has the unrestricted power to pardon. I think he would be within his rights to put pardons on Ebay if he wanted. (I once research this, and I believe I came to the conclusion that only the "buyer" of the pardon would be committing a crime. But he could be pardoned for that as well.)

Clinton, Bush, whoever, can pardon anyone they want for any reason they want. They can (and will) use the pardon power for political favoritism or for genuine attmepts at "justice." To second-guess their reasoning is simply to say that if you were in power you would have realized your whims differently.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 19, 2008 11:33:34 AM

Oh, I don't see the discussion as useless. It is true, however, that certain preliminaries have to be tolerated ("This the worst pardon ever ... Some other president did the same thing ... it is unprecedented, etc.") Blah. Blah. Soon enough, I believe, all of those things will be too boring to wade through and something like reform might actually show up.

For example, I welcome the additional point that you made and wish it would be made more often. Currently, the Court adheres to U.S. v. Wilson, which sets the King of England as the standard for interpreting the pardon power. I think there are all sorts of problems with that but, among them, are the types of things you noted. Kings routinely SOLD pardons. They also granted them to celebrate birthdays. Is it any wonder that, for 200 plus years, presidents have felt quite free to use pardons in the manner that they have? The only mechanism that we have to control such behavior is potential shame. And that isn't much of a mechanism for some presidents.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Feb 20, 2008 11:43:44 AM

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