The media coverage of the Clinton pardons has been so biased,
overblown and vituperative as to call into question the very purpose of
what currently passes as journalism. It is difficult to recall a more
partisan, one-sided hatchet job.
Surely, even the faintest sense of fairness would compel a comparison
of former President Clinton's actions with that of his predecessors and,
as Rep. Henry Waxman pointed out at a recent hearing to a largely
indifferent Washington press corps, Republican Presidents have more than
matched the outrages of Clinton.
Forget Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, which, while
effectively short-circuiting an ongoing probe of possibly the most
egregious behavior of any US President, can be rationalized as a
healing gesture. Nixon had accomplished much, and he was by then a broken
man. We can also overlook Ronald Reagan's pardon of Yankee owner George
Steinbrenner, who had pleaded guilty to violating election laws.
But unforgivable is what former President George Bush did. He
protected himself--a former Reagan Administration official--in an ongoing
investigation when he pardoned Reagan's Defense secretary, Casper
Weinberger, and the rest of the Iran/contra gang of six.
At the time, Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh bitterly charged
that "the Iran/contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six
years, has now been completed"--by presidential fiat. Walsh called it
"evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration
officials to lie to Congress and the American public" and said that, "in
light of President Bush's own misconduct," he was "gravely concerned"
about Bush's decision to pardon others.
Bush could easily have been said to have covered up his own potential
culpability--far short of anything Clinton has been accused of doing in
his pardon of Marc Rich or anyone else. Nor did the Bush Iran/contra
pardons pass the one-more-pardon-before-leaving-the-White-House "smell
test" so liberally applied to Clinton's pardons; the pardon came after
intensive lobbying by former Reagan aides and many last-minute White
As for pardoning drug dealers, so upsetting when ordered by Clinton,
again why no comparison with Bush's similar and arguably more offensive
pardon of that nature? Bush's pardon of Aslam Adam, a Pakistani heroin
trafficker serving a fifty-five-year sentence, would seem more startling than
Clinton's pardon of an LA Latino from a sentence one-fifth as long.
And, OK, let's talk about Marc Rich. Let's compare his pardon to that
of another financier, Armand Hammer. If Rich bought his pardon, he at
least felt the need to employ the precaution of funneling a contribution
through his ex-wife, as some charge. Hammer was considerably more
blatant. Not only had he pleaded guilty to the charge of making illegal
campaign contributions but also, when pardoned from that offense by Bush,
he forked over two gifts of $100,000 to the GOP as well as to Bush's
Those represented fresh contributions to an incoming administration
that could continue to bestow favors--not, as with Clinton, to a
soon-to-be ex-President's library. But if it is library contributions
that now so fascinate, why did House Government Reform Committee Chairman
Dan Burton turn down ranking Democrat Waxman's request that the records
of contributions to Republican Presidents' libraries also be subpoenaed?
And imagine the outcry if Clinton had pardoned an immigrant exile
accused of masterminding an airline bombing that cost the lives of seventy-three
people, including twenty-four teenage members of an Olympic fencing team. Yet
that is what George Bush did in acceding to the requests of his son, Jeb,
to pardon Orlando Bosch, gaining Jeb support in Miami's exile Cuban
The most serious of Clinton's pardon excesses, that of former CIA
Director John Deutsch, does not rise to that level, but it is odd that it
has not been criticized. By pardoning Deutsch, Clinton ended an inquiry
into how sloppily top secrets are handled at the highest level. The
Clinton Administration had held former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in
solitary confinement for mishandling data that wasn't even classified as
secret at the time. It was Lee and not Deutsch who deserved a pardon. But
that would have meant enduring criticism, and Clinton only does that for
What Clinton did in catering to the wishes of his rich backers was
probably less motivated by library gifts than by misplaced compassion for
well-heeled but seedy people. That makes it all the more depressing, for
one would have hoped that someone who came up the hard way would know
that the filthy rich don't deserve special favors. But the rich pay the
piper, and no matter who's in the White House, Presidents do dance.
So it is, and so it always has been. The presidential pardon is a perk
of office, which has only the function of exonerating those the judicial
system would otherwise continue to condemn. It is a power begging to be
abused, but no more so by Clinton than many a Republican President who
CORRECTION (from the Dec. 27 issue): In Micah L. Sifry's "Public Citizen No. 1" [Dec. 20], Carl Mayer, although he is among those urging Nader to run, was incorrectly identified as a member of the Draft Nader Committee. Also, the town of Amherst is in Wisconsin, not Michigan.
A version of this article also appeared in Salon magazine.
Research assistance for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
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The GOP says, "Stay!"
They fear that he'd be draining
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The thought of Hatch with smack or crack
Is palpably baroque.