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Brooklyn real estate mogul Isaac Robert Toussie “scammed hundreds of poor, minority homebuyers” and got caught. He copped a guilty plea to defrauding the Department of Housing and Urban Development and got a “relatively mild” sentence of five months, without any duty to make restitution. Toussie then went about getting a presidential pardon in the time-honored way. First he hired the president’s former lawyer, Bradford A. Berenson of the firm of Sidley & Austin, to advise him in seeking a pardon. Then his father made donations totaling some $40,000 to the Republican Party or to Republican candidates. Just before Christmas, Toussie got a pardon. He did it on the cheap (the Marc Rich pardon involved a $450,000 donation to the Clinton library). As with the prior commutation that Bush gave to his advisor Scooter Libby, it doesn’t seem that the Justice Department or the Pardons Attorney knew anything about it.
But as soon as the papers began to fill with the sordid dealings underlying the Toussie pardon, the president came down with a severe case of pardoner’s remorse. Bush hadn’t reckoned with the details emerging, at least not so quickly. He purported to rescind the pardon. Rescind a pardon? Actually, pardons are supposed to be irrevocable–binding once granted. But Constitutional doctrine and tradition count for very little for Bush. As the White House explains, the pardon “hadn’t been fully executed,” so it could be called back. It had been signed; Bush means that it had not been delivered or accepted. These final steps are in theory necessary to make the pardon effective.
This recalls the historical moment that Friedrich Schiller turned into a dramatic high point in the play Mary Stuart–the Scottish queen’s execution. In Act V, Queen Elizabeth flies into a rage on learning of her cousin’s beheading, saying that, though she had signed the warrant, she had not authorized its delivery and performance. It was a way for the Virgin Queen to cast off blame for her own act and place it on others. And so it is with Bush.
There’s more drama to come, but the prologue is already very interesting. And the precedent could prove unnerving to those receiving Bush’s last-minute pardons. It suggests, after all, that Barack Obama has the power simply to revoke the pardons–something that legal scholars considered, up to this point, almost unimaginable.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.
Average number of bacteria living in a pound of U.S. mud:
Canadian doctors saved a baby from drowning in his own drool by using Botox on his salivary glands.
A black bear named Pedals, famous for walking upright on his hind legs through Rockaway Township, New Jersey, was reported killed by a hunter, and a hiker in California was attacked after he interrupted two bears mating. It was a “pretty good bear attack,” said the local police chief.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”