Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pardon George Ryan? Let's Get Political!

PardonPower has been somewhat amused by the recent rash of stories related to the potential pardon of former Illinois Governor George Ryan (R). In the latest wave, state politicians of all sorts are expressing their support - or lack of support - for clemency. This was triggered when Senator Dick Durbin (D) indicated that he was thinking about supporting Ryan, then suggested he would not and then announced that he would. Amazingly enough, what has failed to show up in article after article, and analysis after analysis, is political perspective. There is no need for this to continue. So, let's get started:

Durbin has not exactly been a fan of George W. Bush, or of this administration. Has anyone noticed that? Why hasn't anyone questioned his motive for the very awkward public support that he is only now offering? Does he want to lure Bush into a controversial pardon? Is Durbin trying to appear non-partisan? If so, why? Is he setting himself up to be a pardon cheerleader/broker just in case the current governor, Rod Blagojevich (D), finds himself in legal hot water later? Blago, incidentally, also supports clemency for Ryan, even though he (Blago) has distinguished himself as a governor who will allow thousands of pardon applications to pile high and sit around for years!

Let's talk about the possibility that Bush will pardon Ryan, or commute Ryan's sentence. At first glance, Ryan appears to be far from an ideal choice for such consideration. He has not served that much of his sentence (about 14 months out of 78). The crimes he was charged with were fairly significant and he was hardly stellar - either as a governor or a Republican. In addition, Ryan entered prison claiming he was innocent. PardonPower is aware of no change in the status of this position. The scenario just doesn't look pretty. Even with the curious support of administration-critic Dick Durbin.

Enter Harry Truman. That's right. Harry S Truman. As Truman left office, he granted several controversial pardons without the use of the "normal processes." Among those pardoned were a few first-class Democratic party hacks (former congressman and war profiteer Andrew J. May, ballot box stuffer Edward F. Prichard and the former Democratic Governor of Louisiana, Richard W. Leche). The strategy to calm the certain oncoming storm of criticism? Truman also pardoned Republican congressmen J. Parnell Thomas, a former foe and highly visible Chair of HUAC. Did the strategy work? Well, the last-minute irregularities caused a stir, but nothing major. Sure, Eisenhower tried to make political hay out of it. But the righteous indignation resulted in no significant changes to the clemency process and, at the end of his own administration, Eisenhower threw down so many pardons that Truman's stunt looked downright silly.

Enter Edwin Edwards. The Democrat and former governor of Louisiana is currently sitting in prison. Unlike Ryan, he has served most of his ten-year sentence. Edward's clemency application is not supported by the likes of Dick Durbin. It is supported by none other than George H.W. Bush, the father of the president, who is a personal friend of Edwards. Will the Truman Strategy play out once again? Is it on the table? Ryan's sentence is commuted, but Edwards gets to walk too? It would seem like a pretty good possibility but for one thing. Re-read paragraph three, above.

And, finally, everyone is losing their creativity, once again. It is though Scooter Libby never happened. Yep, it is all "Ryan will walk" or "Ryan will not walk." Nice for conversation, but those are not the options. Bush could also commute Ryan's sentence to expire at a later date. That is to say, he could exercise the pardon power, but fall short of freeing Ryan instantly. Don't forget it.

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