There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth going on right now over the subject of pardons. People want to know which of a long list of well-connected Republican malefactors — which few lucky duckies out of a sky saturated with wayward fowl — George W. Bush will decide to pardon on his way out the door. It’s get out of jail free card time in Republican World, and everyone wants to know: who will get the golden ticket? And who will be left holding the bag?
Much of this concern, of course, relates to the possibility Bush may try to shoot the moon, issuing one all-encompassing pardon protecting everyone who’s ever participated in torture. For what it’s worth, I don’t see that happening. It’s too much like an admission of guilt by people who are too dumb — and morally deficient — to realize just how guilty they are. Besides, they know Obama doesn’t have the stomach to prosecute.
Then, of course, there’s Scooter Libby. A pardon for the Scootinator would seem an almost certainty, no doubt part of the original deal under which he took the fall for Uncle Dick.
How about Ted Stevens? Hell, I might even be willing to sign onto that one. Now that he’s out of the Senate, who really wants to see the Alaskan octogenarian in an orange jumpsuit anyway? Sure, he’s a mean SOB and a crook to boot, but somehow I just don’t see him doing time at age 85. Besides, the DC Circuit will likely find a way to cut him loose anyway (it tends to decide cases in Republican friendly ways), so we might just as well save the taxpayers the cost of the appeal.
Once you get past Scooter and Ted, however, things start to get interesting. There’s clearly a veritable swamp of illegality festering in the White House. Much of it will soon see the light of day. But who among the likely suspects will be lucky enough to receive a pardon?
Dick Cheney? Karl Rove? (Slate has a list of some of the possibilities). We probably won’t know the final answer until Jan. 20.
But if Bush were smart (yeah, I know, if pigs could fly and all that) there’s another name — one that appears on no one’s list of likely Bush pardons — which would make it to the top of the list: former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. The shamefulness of the politically motivated prosecution of Siegelman, a Democrat, has been thoroughly established.
As I said in a post a number of months ago, there is simply no room left for doubt that the Bush Administration, in a glaring violation of well established ethical precepts, not to mention common decency, used the Justice Department to take down the former Governor of Alabama for political reasons. And in the process, it appears very likely they sent an innocent man to prison.
In that same post, I suggested that Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey’s reputation was on the line with Siegelman. If he failed to aggressively investigate this injustice, and failed to end the cover-up at Justice, he would face devastating long term damage to his professional standing.
Well, that pig seems to have already flown the coop, hasn’t it?
Still, even though Mukasey (not unexpectedly) crapped out as the champion of justice in the Siegelman case, Bush still has a chance. It would be an act of utter genius. He wouldn’t have to actually admit that the Justice Department engaged in a political prosecution (at the behest of Karl Rove). He could say it was a humanitarian gesture: a desire to put any questions as to the fairness of the prosecution to rest.
Then, having pardoned a former Democratic officeholder, he’d have some cover for cutting a few of his own buddies loose. Better still, if the Democrats were to then continue to push the investigation into the politicization of Justice (as they should), Republicans could accuse them of a shameful political witch-hunt after Bush’s “statesman-like” action.
Siegelman, who looks likely to score a reversal of his conviction, might not even want a pardon from Bush. But that’s the beauty of the thing: it’s not his choice. And for Bush, it would be a masterful play.
He won’t do it, of course. He’s neither bright nor flexible enough. But he’ll be passing up a hell of a bet.