No Comment — December 26, 2008, 11:12 am

Is $40,000 the New Going Rate for Presidential Pardons?

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.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
Post
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Article
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
Criticism
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

 
“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today