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Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2001 / 21 Teves, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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Consumer Reports

Pardon Clinton? -- GEORGE W. BUSH has been getting a good deal of advice, mostly from conservative and Republican quarters, to pardon Bill Clinton soon after Inauguration Day. Among those calling for a pardon for the departing president are the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch; JWR's Charles Krauthammer, the gifted columnist; Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign manager, Scott Reed; and even the man who lost to Clinton in 1992.

"I don't want something bad to happen," the first George Bush told ABC. "He's been through a lot, the country's been through a lot. Let's heal and forget."

The second George Bush seems inclined to agree -- "I think it's time to get all of this business behind us ... and let [Clinton] move on and enjoy life," he said last week. But he considers talk of a pardon for Monica's soulmate premature:

"The suggestion that I would pardon somebody who has never been indicted -- that doesn't make any sense to me." Doesn't make any sense to me either.

For two years Clinton has been peddling the fable that every accusation made about him was the product of right-wing malice and Republican jealousy. Now, on his way out, he has the cheek to insist that he never ran afoul of the law.

"So after all this time," Clinton told Esquire magazine, "and they spent over $100 million on all these special prosecutors and congressional investigations, trying to make those the whole story of the administration, and they have yet to come up with one example of official misconduct in office -- not one." The danger with an early pardon, one that aborts any charges Independent Counsel Robert Ray may be planning to file, is that Clinton and his media cheerleaders will declare him vindicated. No indictment will be spun into no wrongdoing: He wasn't charged with any crimes, we will be instructed, because he didn't commit any crimes -- "not one."

But he did.

In An Affair of State : The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton (HARDCOVER) or (SOFTCOVER) , his book on the Clinton impeachment, Richard Posner -- chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and one of the nation's foremost legal scholars -- concludes that "Clinton engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior and obsessive public lying, the tendency of which was to disparage, undermine, and even subvert the judicial system of the United States." The president's violations were "felonious, numerous, and nontechnical," Posner writes, and it is "clear beyond reasonable doubt" that he is guilty of perjuring himself, suborning perjury in another, and tampering with a witness.

Others judicial voices have said so too. Because of his "serious misconduct," a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court has recommended that Clinton be disbarred. And a federal judge fined him $90,000 because he "gave false, misleading, and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process."

The Man from Hope seems to have decided long ago that he was exempt from the rules mere mortals must adhere to, and it is to dispel that heresy that Ray ought to indict him. As Ray himself said last April, "There is a principle to be vindicated, and that principle is that no person is above the law, even the president of the United States."

Surely the leading lights of Clinton's party wouldn't object if an indictment was handed up after January 20. How could they? At the time of the president's impeachment trial, they stressed over and over that he would be required to answer for his misdeeds when his term in office was up.

"Whether any of his conduct constitutes a criminal offense," insisted Senator Joseph Lieberman, "... should and must be left to the criminal justice system, which will uphold the rule of law in President Clinton's case as it would for any other American."

"Once the president leaves office," Senator Bob Graham of Florida assured his colleagues, "he will be subject to the same prosecutorial and judicial review all Americans face."

"Rejecting these articles of impeachment," averred California Senator Barbara Boxer, "does not place this president above the law.... He remains subject to the laws of the land just like any other citizen."

"Mr. Clinton may still be prosecuted and convicted of criminal wrongdoing when he leaves office," said Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, "because the president should not be above the law."

We are all agreed, then: If Ray can prove his case, Clinton should be indicted.

Should he also be pardoned?

Yes, and for the same reason Nixon was pardoned: Not because he deserved it, but because the American people did.

"Nixon ... had already suffered enormously," President Ford wrote in his memoirs. "But I wasn't motivated primarily by sympathy for his plight... It was the state of the country's health at home and around the world that worried me." Let Nixon be prosecuted and "the story would overshadow everything else. No other issue could compete with the drama of a former president trying to stay out of jail... Passions on both sides would be aroused. A period of such prolonged vituperation and recrimination would be disastrous." And "the spectacle of a former president on trial" would damage the United States abroad.

What was true in 1974 is even more true in 2001. Heaven knows there are strong reasons to put Clinton on trial. But the reasons not to are even stronger.

So, yes, pardon him.

But first make sure he's indicted.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment on this column by clicking here.

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