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How George H.W. Bush Abused The Pardon Power

Now that the George H.W Bush funeral is in the rear view window, it’s time for a little straight talk on the dark side of his presidency. In this post, I plan to focus on how H.W. Bush abused the pardon power and set a possible precedent for Donald J. Trump.

In 1989, Bush pardoned Armand Hammer for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Interestingly enough, Hammer had contributed $110,000 to the Republican National Committee shortly before his pardon. It certainly created the implication that Hammer purchased this pardon.

H.W. Bush sold another pardon when he pardoned Edwin Cox, Jr. on January 18, 1993. Cox’s family had contributed approximately $200,000.00 to the RNC and the Bush family campaigns beginning in 1980. Moreover, Cox’s father had contributed anywhere between $100,000.00 and $250,000.00 to the H.W. Bush Presidential Library.

The biggest abuse of the pardon power by H.W. Bush were the pardons of six former Reagan Administration officials in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. During Reagan’s second term, the U.S. illegally traded arms for hostages with Iran. The proceeds from those arms sales were used to fund the Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. The Congress had banned any U.S. funding of the Contras.

Lawrence Walsh was the special prosecutor who was tasked with investigating the Iran-Contra scandal. H.W. Bush was a “subject” of the investigation because he had falsely claimed he was out of the loop when the decisions were made in connection with this disastrous policy initiative.

On December 24, 1992, H.W. Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, and former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. They had all had been charged with crimes including perjury, lying to Congress or obstruction of justice. (At the time, then Attorney General William Barr supported these pardons.)

Weinberger’s case was set to go to trial in early January 1993. The focus of that trial was to have been a private notebook of Weinberger’s that contained references to H.W. Bush’s knowledge of the illegal arms sales to Iran.

Lawrence Walsh blasted the pardons: “The Iran-Contra cover up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” Walsh’s final report claimed that Reagan knew of a cover up carried out by then Attorney General Ed Meese. The Special Prosecutor also contended that H.W. Bush was better informed about the Iran-Contra scandal than he had acknowledged.

H.W. Bush’s pardons certainly have set a dangerous precedent for the application of the presidential pardon power. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trump issue a series of pardons of his family and inner circle aimed at protecting them (and himself) from criminal prosecution. Trump could claim that he was simply following the precedent set by H.W. Bush.

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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