By Brent Budowsky
July 26, 2008
Consortiumnews Editor’s Note: As his presidency nears its end, George W. Bush will be faced with a tough choice: either run the risk, along with many of his top aides, of future prosecution for a variety of crimes from the “war on terror” — or fashion a mass pardon for all those involved.
In this guest essay, former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky predicts that Bush will take the latter course, even outdoing his father’s lame-duck Iran-Contra pardons in 1992:
Before leaving office George W. Bush will issue a mass pardon, the largest collection of presidential pardons in American history.
Bush will pardon himself, Vice President Cheney, and a long list of officials involved in torture, eavesdropping, destruction of evidence, the CIA leak case, and a range of other potential crimes.
As George Bush signs the pardons and boards the helicopter to depart Washington as his presidency finally ends, even then he and those pardoned will worry about the statute of limitations.
There is an important point to this, often not recognized in official Washington during the Bush years: When the unthinkable became a way of life, acts were committed that defied constitutional and legal principles in ways never done by an American president.
Torture alone violates international law, domestic law, criminal statutes, and American principles that date back to George Washington.
Eavesdropping without court order violates a statute, FISA, that includes severe criminal penalties. If the courts ultimately conclude that these laws were broken, as I predict they ultimately will, considering the number of individual violations, and the penalties for each violation, the potential sentencing liability for anyone convicted would be huge.
On the destruction of evidence, disappearing e-mails, claims of executive privilege that I predict will be clearly rejected by the Supreme Court after Bush has departed, arguably false testimony to Congress, attempts to cover up actions that violate the law, the list, again, goes on.
There will be a huge legal debate about the right of a President to issue pardons so sweeping in their language that they cover all these potential areas of legal liability, and very possibly, it cannot be done.
Congress should pursue every pending and possible legal challenge to claims of executive privilege so completely untenable under the law that even some conservative Supreme Court justices will refuse to uphold them, as conservative justices joined liberals ruling against Richard M. Nixon.
I predict a series of historic Supreme Court cases that will defeat most of the Bush executive privilege claims and permanently end attempts for royalist interpretations of the law that the Bush years embody.
The fact that Bush attempted to seize power in ways that negate the legislative and judicial branches of government, and the fact that Congress was not heroic in defending its rightful place in the separation of powers, do not change the fact that what is illegal is illegal.
But this is not merely a liberal issue.
There are many authentic conservatives, true Barry Goldwater Republicans, genuine libertarians, honorable strict constructionist conservative jurists and legal scholars who agree entirely that on occasions George Bush has attempted and at times executed seizures of executive power that violate the American Constitution and American statutes.
So, get ready for mass pardons.
Get ready for the long-held precedents of American law to be ultimately if belatedly upheld and spurious claims of executive privilege to be rejected.
Get ready for a long-overdue debate that has barely begun and will be triggered by the mass pardons that will be the last sorry act of the presidency of George W. Bush.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read on The Hill newspaper where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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