Monday, May 16, 2011

Pardons: The Unimportant Topic that Makes / Breaks Candidates

We often receive e-mails and comments which essentially make the same point: Who cares about pardons? There are so many other important things about which to be concerned. Why should anyone bother so much about the circumstances of criminals? 

Presidential election campaigns must be very odd things for persons of this mindset to behold. Consider the last go-round, in 2008:

Hillary Clinton was asked about her husband's questionable pardons when it was observed that several recipients were making donations to her campaign. When she badgered Barack Obama about his relationship with Bill Ayers, in a Nationally televised debate, Obama bluntly reminded Mrs. Clinton that her husband pardoned several of Ayers' associates in the Weather Underground. Obama was asked whether or not he would consider a pardon for Tony Rezko. Rudolph Giuliani was asked if he would pardon Bernard Kerik. Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was asked if she would pardon Senator Ted Stevens. Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was not to keen on the idea of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard. Every Republican candidate was asked, during the debates, how they felt about a potential pardon for Scooter Libby. And every Democratic candidate had something to say about the eventual commutation of sentence he received from George W. Bush. Mitt Romney downright bragged about the fact that he never granted pardons. Mike Huckabee was roundly criticized for granting too many.

What an inordinate amount of attention for a topic so supposedly trivial!

Now comes the 2012 campaign. Tim Pawlenty is being taken to task for a clemency decision. Many have been saying, for weeks, that Mike Huckabee's decision in the case of Maurice Clemmons would come back to haunt him, if he decides to run. Haley Barbour's use of pardons has also been a point of discussion for some time. And now, the Daily Caller reports:
[Michelle] Bachmann may also be plagued by her involvement in a controversial pardon. In 2007, Bachmann wrote a letter requesting a presidential pardon for a convicted drug-smuggler and money-launderer named Frank Vennes. Vennes was convicted of money laundering in 1988 and pleaded no contest to a cocaine and weapons charge. Making matters worse, he and his wife donated a total of $27,600 to Bachmann’s 2006 and 2008 election.

On October 2, 2008, Rep. Bachmann wrote a second letter after Vennes’ home was raided by federal agents investigating his connection to a billion dollar Ponzi scheme, this time admitting: “Regrettably, it now appears that I may have too hastily accepted his [Frank Vennes] claims of redemption and I must withdraw my previous letter.” Bachmann’s spokesman tells me, Rep. Bachmann “has remained disassociated from Mr. Vennes and is saddened by the latest charges that were filed against him.” Some have questioned whether or not evangelical Christians like Bachmann may be naive when it comes to claims of redemption. Should Bachmann’s campaign gain steam, she will likely have to answer questions about her judgment.
Yes, there will be more and more of this. Count on it. The pardon power did not suddenly become a point of interest with Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. And Bill Clinton's last-minute pardon bonanza was not the tale to end all tales. The pardon power is real. It is a significant part of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. Its use, misuse or even non-use, will never ever change that. Neglect (by officials or commentators) will only foster ignorance and injustice. So, we say, learn to love it. See Daily Caller story here.

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