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Feingold Urges Pardon Restraint

Related to Daphne’s post from last week on the sweeping power of presidential pardons, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) has a Salon piece today urging President George W. Bush to show some restraint as he leaves the office. Pre-emptive pardons for administration officials involved in torture and warrantless spying programs, Feingold argues, would sully Bush’s reputation and could cloud the public’s belief in the rule of law.

Issuing such pardons now would be particularly egregious, since voters just issued such a strong condemnation of the Bush administration at the ballot box. There is nothing to prevent President Bush from using the pardon in such a short-sighted and self-serving manner — except, perhaps, public pressure that may itself be a window on the judgment of history.

It’s a nice thought, but a couple things go unmentioned: First, shy of being discovered in a Manila heroin den, there’s little Bush could do that could taint his standing any more than it’s been tainted. (Nor does it appear that his reputation ever meant that much to him, at least in the short term). And second, it becomes much tougher for Democrats to ask Bush to resist controversial pardons in the wake of Bill Clinton’s “pardongate” legacy.

As Daphne points out, the Obama administration has shown no taste for prosecuting Bush administration officials anyways — an alternative being simply to publicize any crimes committed by the current White House, even if no charges would follow.

That won’t satisfy the left’s thirst for accountability, but there’s something to be said for public humiliation. As commenter “chris mirabal” wrote in response to Daphne’s piece: “Not many criminals enjoy the infamy of heinous acts. If all criminals could choose between shame and incarceration, we wouldn’t need prisons.”

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