Feingold To Bush: Don't Abuse Pardon Power

12/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Salon

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls on President Bush in a Salon article not to abuse his pardon power:

A departing president probably can't help thinking about the judgment of history. At the end of eight years, President Bush likely isn't any different. With the nation's attention focused on his successor, it may seem as if there is little opportunity left for the current president to affect how he will be viewed. But there is one power left -- the power of the pardon -- that could, if it's abused, create a controversy that both the president and the public could live without.

The power of the pardon is close to absolute. Short of interfering with their own impeachment, presidents can pardon whomever they choose. At the end of his term, however, this president should think twice before issuing pardons that call his judgment, and the integrity of the rule of law, into question.

If President Bush were to pardon key individuals involved in the misdeeds of his administration, from warrantless wiretapping to torture to the firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons, the courts would be unable to address criminality, or pass judgment on the legality of some of the president's worst abuses. Issuing such pardons now would be particularly egregious, since voters just issued such a strong condemnation of the Bush administration at the ballot box. There is nothing to prevent President Bush from using the pardon in such a short-sighted and self-serving manner -- except, perhaps, public pressure that may itself be a window on the judgment of history. Everyone who can exert that pressure, from members of Congress to the press and the public, should express their views on whether it would be appropriate for President Bush to use his pardon power in this way.

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The current president, who has shown such disrespect for the rule of law during his term, will have a chance to show to all of us, and to history, whether he respects it enough not to short-circuit the judicial process after he leaves office.