Saturday, May 31, 2008

Context: Libby a Campaign Issue?

It is fairly common to see comments on blogs suggesting that there is no way that Scooter Libby will (or should be) an issue in the presidential election. I suppose much depends upon how one defines what an "issue" is. I do know this: Americans are notorious for forgetting notorious "controversial" pardons of the very worst sort with great speed. As a result, if pardons were ever an issue in previous presidential campaigns, then it would be forgotten as well. How many people remember the first presidential debate of October 6, 1996? A portion of it went like this:

DOLE: Well, I'm really encouraged to know of your renewed friendship with Al D'Amato and I know he appreciates it. You didn't even have tax cuts in your budget, Mr. President, first two years you were president. It wasn't until we had a Republican Congress that you'd even thought about -- you talked about tax cuts. And getting back to personal differences. I don't -- you know, if, Jim, if you're a little more specific. But I think the president could clarify one thing tonight and that's the question of pardons. I know you talked about it on the Jim, the Jim Lehrer, on the PBS show and I've never discussed Whitewater, as I've told you personally. I'm not discussing Whitewater now. But I am discussing a power the president has to grant pardons and, hopefully, in the next segment you could lay that to rest.

CLINTON: Well, first of all, you know, he made that remark about Senator D'Amato. He's arranged for me to spend a lot more time with Senator D'Amato in the last couple of years, and so I'm more familiar with his comments than I used to be. I -- let me say what I said already about this pardon issue. This is an issue they brought up. It's under -- there has been no consideration of it, no discussion of it. I'll tell you this: I will not give anyone special treatment, and I will strictly adhere to the law. And that is what every president has done, as far as I know, in the past. But whatever other presidents have done, this is something I take seriously, and that's my position.

MR. DOLE: But it seems to me the president shouldn't have any comment at all, particularly where it's someone where you've had business dealings. I mean, you may be sending a signal. I don't know. I'm not questioning anybody. But as the president of the United States, when somebody asks you about pardons, you say, 'No comment.' Period. And I think he made a mistake. And I think when you make a mistake, you say, 'I made a mistake.' But apparently his position hasn't changed. If there are other specific areas -- but beyond that, I haven't gotten into any of these things, as the president knows. We've had that discussion. And, again, I know Senator D'Amato, I think, may have had a hearing or two on Whitewater; I can't remember. But he's not my general chairman. He's a friend of mine. And so is Senator Kennedy a friend of yours. And --

CLINTON: You bet.

DOLE: -- I remember one day on the floor I said, 'Now, gentlemen, let me tax your memories,' and Kennedy jumped up and said, 'Why haven't we thought of that before.' You know? So one of your liberal friends.

CLINTON: No comment.

In the second debate (October 16), Dole persisted saying, "The president ought to say tonight that he's not going to pardon anybody that he was involved in business with who might implicate him later on." Clinton (far more disciplined in debate than Mrs. Clinton) simply did not respond.

And, while we are here, let's think about it. When President Clinton dropped all of those last-minute controversial pardons, did anyone in the national news media recall what Clinton said in that second paragraph from the debate (above) ? Did anyone bother to even once quote what Clinton said on Jim Lehrer's Newshour on Sept. 23, 1996?
"I've given no consideration to [a pardon for Jim and Susan McDougal]. And you know, their cases are still on appeal. And that would-my position would be that their cases should be handled like others, they should go through-there's a regular process for that, and I have regular meetings on that, and review those cases as they come up after there's an evaluation done by the Justice Department. And that's how I think it should be handled."
So, here is the question: Is it fair to say that Whitewater pardons were an "issue" in the 1996 presidential campaign?

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