Beg Your Pardon?

Bush’s power to pardon is basically unlimited. Could he legally pardon himself?

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Undoubtedly, President Bush has considered pardons to minimize his and his subordinates’ legal exposure upon leaving office. How far can he go? Brian Kalt, a Michigan State law professor and a historian of the presidential pardon, says that “as long as it’s for a criminal federal offense, there don’t seem to be any limits at all” to the pardon power. President Gerald Ford issued a preemptive blanket pardon to Richard Nixon in 1974, establishing a broad precedent that’s never been challenged.

Last fall, Democratic congressional staffers vigorously researched what options they have to head Bush off at the pass. There don’t appear to be many. Congress could try to curb the president in some way—for instance, forbidding pardons in the final days of his administration—but no one knows whether this would hold up in court. Pardon power could be limited with a constitutional amendment, but…that’s an impossibility.

Some scholars believe Bush could even pardon himself. (Nixon considered it.) A less dramatic, and equally effective, way to protect himself would be to pardon his immediate subordinates, making it difficult to use the threat of prosecution to force them to testify against him. (The precedent here was set by Bush père. In the final days of his term, he pardoned several Iran-Contra figures who might have implicated him in the scandal.) There’s also speculation that Bush might offer blanket immunity to anyone connected to the torture policy. However, anyone Bush pardons will no longer be at risk of self-incrimination—and therefore will not be able to plead the Fifth Amendment if ever called to testify.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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