Expert: Tenet, Gonzales, Rumsfeld could get 'preemptive pardons'
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Wednesday November 26, 2008

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Some Republicans are hoping to see President Bush issue pre-emptive pardons to former top officials in his administration who might become targets of Democratic investigations.

CNN's Joe Johns asked legal analyst Sonny Hostin whether this could really happen. "It's not so crazy," Hostin replied. "It's been done before. The president has the power to pardon any criminal offense, and that power can be exercised at any time. ... Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon before his indictment is probably one of the best-known examples."

Hostin stated that blanket pardons for officials who approved of torture are unlikely, but that certain specific names are currently being "bandied about," including former CIA Director George Tenet, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. All three have been implicated in the abuse of detainees, and Gonzales is also in legal difficulties over his role in the US Attorney scandal.

Although Ford's pardon of Nixon is the best-known example of pre-emptive use of the pardon power, there is another significant precedent for presidential pardons of high administration officials. Shortly before leaving office, in December 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six individuals who had been convicted or were in legal trouble over their involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who was about to go on trial for lying to Congress.

Independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, who had been investigating Iran-Contra since 1986, charged at the time that "the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed." He also suggested that Bush himself might have been involved in "a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public."

Among those pardoned at that time was former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who had pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress. Abrams is currently a Deputy National Security Advisor to George W. Bush.

This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast Nov. 26, 2008.

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