As the clock ticks down on his presidency, George W. Bush has shown few signs he plans to indulge in the frenzy of last-minute pardons that marked Bill Clinton’s final hours in the Oval Office.
But Bush could quickly leap back into the spotlight in the next two days if he issues a blanket pardon immunizing CIA and military interrogators, as well as their bosses, from criminal prosecution over harsh treatment of prisoners from the war on terror.
“I’m sure he’s under pressure from some people to issue blanket pardons,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told Politico. “I don’t think it’s fevered imagination. I think it’s reasonable speculation.”
Bush is also facing pressure from conservative allies, who see pardons of former Bush administration officials and some others as a more realistic possibility. At the top of their lists: Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, still under investigation for his role in a series of U.S. attorney firings.
Here is a list of 10 cases that could come under review by Bush, and Politico’s look at the odds Bush will wield his pardon pen:
1. Pardon Prospects: Military and CIA interrogators of war-on-terror prisoners
Status: Could face investigation and prosecution for use of harsh tactics in post-9/11 interrogations. Bush has signaled sympathy with those called upon to “connect the dots” after the terror attack, and the incoming Barack Obama administration has given mixed signals, with Obama himself downplaying prosecutions but his choice for attorney general Eric Holder seeming open to the idea – which could lead Bush to act.
Pros: Some lawyers doubt charges could ever be brought or convictions obtained because of Justice Department opinions permitting aggressive tactics; might be seen as buck-stops-here gesture by Bush.
Cons: Likely to require a “blanket” pardon which describes conduct, but does not name individuals; might be hard to craft language or justify pardon which immunizes some harsh tactics without overturning convictions for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib; certain to trigger outrage among liberals and inflame anti-American feeling abroad. Pardons expert P.S. Ruckman Jr. of Rock Valley College in Illinois downplays “the idea of this big, last-minute, surprise, blanket, turbo-amnesty for war crimes.”
Politico Odds: 4 to 1
2. Pardon Prospect: Former Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.
Status: Convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice, false statements, and perjury in investigation into leak of identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, two years probation and $250,000 fine; prison sentence commuted by Bush before service. A Libby pardon has strong support among conservatives. “Scooter Libby was not guilty of the original crime trumpeted by the media and the Democrats for campaign purposes. He was not responsible for the leak…..It’s a travesty, it seems to me,” said Dick Carlson, a former Voice of America chief and ambassador.
Pros: Vice President Dick Cheney views Libby as loyal; disbarment and lack of employment could be seen as punishment; on leaving office, presidents Clinton and Bush (41) also pardoned senior officials
Cons: Could remind public of Bush’s failure to dismiss those accused of leaking Plame’s identity; risk of public outcry for leaving full pardon for final days of presidency when it could have been done sooner.
Politico Odds: 1 to 2
3. Pardon Prospect: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Status: A special prosecutor based in Connecticut, Nora Dannehy, has been assigned to review whether Gonzales misled Congress or otherwise interfered with inquiries into the firings of U.S. attorneys. He’s also being investigated for allegedly preparing false after the fact notes of 2004 congressional briefing about warrantless surveillance. Gonzales has denied wrongdoing, but lacks a solid job and could still run up big legal bills trying to ward off a prosecution.
Pros: Gonzales a longtime loyal Bush aide; arguably punished by lack of significant employment since resigning under pressure in 2007
Cons: Pardon could be seen as self-serving since it was Bush who reportedly asked Gonzales to memorialize 2004 Congressional meeting; will prompt charges of cronyism.
Politico Odds: 1 to 1.
4. Pardon Prospects: Former American Israel Public Affairs Committee Lobbyists Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, Former Pentagon Analyst Lawrence Franklin
Status: Franklin pled guilty in 2005 to passing national secrets to Rosen and Weissman; also admitted to passing secrets to Israeli officials; Rosen and Weissman pled not guilty to conspiring to obtain and distribute classified information; trial set for April 2009
Pros: Could please Jewish activists and pro-Israel conservatives; would end unusual prosecution for activities supporters argue are commonplace in Washington
Cons: Undercuts Bush administration’s anti-leak campaign; not clear that Rosen or Weissman desire pardon; Franklin’s admission of direct disclosures to Israel undermines chance for him
Politico Odds: Rosen/Weissman, 10 to 1; Franklin: 20 to 1
5. Pardon Prospect: Former Justice Department official Bradley Schlozman
Status: Investigated for alleged use of political considerations in hiring at DOJ Civil Rights Division and for alleged false statements to Congress; defense lawyer says U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute and “exonerated” Schlozman; Holder told senators he plans to “review” that decision as attorney general
Pros: Eliminates further legal exposure for aide already reportedly cleared once by Justice Department
Cons: Could be viewed as endorsement of politicization at DOJ
Politico Odds: 4 to 1
6. Pardon prospect: Former junk bond king Michael Milken
Status: Pled guilty in 1990 to six tax and securities-related felonies; sentenced to 10 years; ultimately served 22 months
Pros: Out of prison for 16 years; extensive philanthropy since leaving prison
Cons: Tough time to pardon anyone with Wall Street ties
Politico Odds: 2 to 1
7. Commutation Prospects: Former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean
Status: Convicted in 2006 of shooting fleeing drug smuggling suspect who was illegal alien; Compean sentenced to 12 years in prison; Ramos to 11 years
Pros: Crusade for clemency led by CNN anchor Lou Dobbs; commutation supported by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), as well as conservative lawmakers
Cons: Dobbs was no friend of Bush’s immigration policy; could be seen as endorsing police abuse
Politico Odds: 3 to 1
8. Commutation Prospect: Former Governor George Ryan (R-Ill.)
Status: Convicted in 2006 of corruption charges; serving six-and-a-half year prison sentence; set for release in 2013
Pros: Ryan is 74; wife in ill health; clemency has support of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
Cons: Timing less than ideal since Ryan’s successor, Rod Blagojevich (D), now faces corruption charges; Ryan has served little of his sentence, only about a year
Politico Odds: 4 to 1
9. Commutation Prospect: Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard
Status: Pled guilty to espionage in 1986; sentenced to life in prison without parole
Pros: Backers say Pollard’s punishment more severe than spies from countries hostile to America; commutation would please Israel and Jewish groups
Cons: Strongly opposed by defense and intelligence communities; Bush has rejected numerous pleas from Israeli officials
Politico Odds: 20 to 1
10. Commutation Prospect: Randall “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.)
Status: Pled guilty in 2005 to conspiracy and tax evasion as part of $2.4 million bribery scheme; sentenced to eight years four months
Pros: Stricken with prostate cancer; age 67
Cons: Bush publicly called Cunningham’s scheme “outrageous”; some Republicans blame Cunningham in part for party’s poor showing in 2006 and 2008; clemency could complicate pending trial for alleged co-conspirator, CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo
Politico Odds: 50 to 1