No pardons in the rose garden

Posted: Dec 22, 2000 12:00 AM
As we look ahead to the weird new age without a Clinton White House ruining our daily breakfast, we still have unfinished business. Specifically: Will there be any pardons? Rumors are circulating that the president will pardon Whitewater criminal Susan McDougal and Rose Law Firm embezzler/Whitewater document specialist Webster Hubbell. But the pardon frenzy shouldn't stop there, some think. Since independent counsel Robert Ray is still investigating whether Clinton should be prosecuted for perjury after he leaves office, some have now begun suggesting that President-Elect Bush consider a pardon for Bill. Republican Scott Reed, among others, suggested that since Bush promised to change the tone of Washington, and end the partisan bickering-cum-investigations, a pardon of Bill would be a perfect way for Bush to close the Clinton era. It makes you wonder if some Republicans will ever, ever learn. It is true that Bush has studiously avoided any suggestion that he was offended by any of Clinton's misbehavior, suggesting in his convention address that he had "no stake" in impeachment, or the clever Democratic lawyering around every previous ethical standard. But what the president-elect feels personally about Clinton's offenses is irrelevant. What matters only is the rule of law, whether Clinton violated it, and if Bush will enforce it. Spokesman Ari Fleisher insists Bush has no pardoning plans, which is good. If Bush has any desire to placate conservatives who manned the barricades for him over the last few months, he won't do anything to frustrate the course every conniving Democratic savior suggested during the impeachment fight -- namely, that Clinton could always be prosecuted after he leaves office. The irony here is that all the Whitewater culprits -- Bill, Hillary, Susan, Jim, Webster, etc. -- have already received almost a decade of public-relations pardons from the press. Mrs. McDougal could count on NBC slavishly accepting her notion that Ken Starr was like the Nazis who hunted her mother during World War II, or boast to ABC's Diane Sawyer without protest that she wanted to see Starr and his family dead. Hubbell could make bizarre declarations about Starr indicting his dogs and cats, but he wouldn't "lie" about the Clintons, and reporters lapped the absurdities up. Double standards are just the media's way of letting people know that the partisan affiliations in Washington have changed. Remember how, when President Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra figures in 1992, the media erupted in outrage? ABC's Jim Wooten was emblematic of the race: "It seems to me that the president, with these pardons, has attempted to apply a statute of limitations to the American people's right to know what went on." Ah, the right to know. Now that's an ancient concept. On CBS, Bruce Morton protested: "The men Mr. Bush pardoned were all accused or convicted of lying to Congress." (Notice that? Back then, an accusation was as good as a conviction. During the Clinton years, a conviction was on par with a witch hunt.) Morton asked: "So the question remains: How can the executive and the legislative agree on a foreign policy when one branch of government lies to the other?" Where was Morton when Clinton lied about encouraging Iran to arm the Bosnian Muslims, and Al Gore withheld secret agreements with the Russians as they armed Iran? One can almost giggle now at the picture of Al Hunt back in '92 raging on CNN: "There wasn't any mistake made (by prosecutors against the Iran-Contra figures). They were liars. I think that was an unconscionable act, and all it does is pinpoint George Bush's untruthfulness about this whole issue." Liars! If lying were an imprisonable offense during the Clinton years, this president would have received a life sentence. (Memo to GWB: The media's fondness for scandal is about to increase again. In the early months of your father's administration, reporters were rushing on air with news that HUD designate Jack Kemp exceeded House honorarium limits; that HHS nominee Louis Sullivan wanted to remain active at Morehouse College; that Agriculture pick Clayton Yeutter "apparently violated ethics rules when he was the guest of honor at a reception hosted by Philip Morris." You're in store for the same.) Perhaps most amazing of all is how oblivious some in the media are to their double standard. As CNN's Judy Woodruff asked in promoting an upcoming segment: "Media coverage of the next president. Will Bush have as rough a time as his predecessor?"