The following editorial appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post:
The more that is learned about some of the pardons former President Clinton granted on his final day in office -- particularly the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich -- the more it appears that they constituted a major abuse of the pardon power. We learn, for example, that the Rich pardon was, if not facilitated, at least preceded by gifts of nearly a half-million dollars from Mr. Rich's former wife to the Clinton presidential foundation and library fund. Ms. Rich was also a major campaign contributor not just to the president but to his wife the senator.
The Rich pardon has been thoroughly denounced by almost everyone except the lawyers who were paid by Mr. Rich to lobby for it, and various others to whose organizations he has made contributions over the years. The denunciation has been thoroughly bipartisan. Mr. Clinton's only public response has been to say that he "spent a lot of time on that case" and that he thinks "there are very good reasons for it." "Once the facts are out," the public will understand, he said. What are those facts, if not that money talked and that Mr. Clinton may have benefited? He would do well to find a way to say, and to explain the other questionable pardons on his list.
This is a classic Clinton case. The facts suggest that he first abused, then wrapped himself protectively in, a presidential prerogative. The public has a legitimate interest in determining the extent of the abuse. The question is how to conduct the necessary inquiry without at the same time weakening the prerogative if only by undercutting the public's sense of its legitimacy. The pardon power is absolute, and there are good reasons to have it so; properly exercised, it can serve as a useful corrective on the judicial system. Do prosecutors and congressional committees nonetheless examine this use of it? If yes, they risk putting an asterisk after the power; if no, they risk turning a blind eye to wrongful behavior and giving Mr. Clinton and some who importuned him an undeserved bye.
Mr. Clinton could solve the problem by being forthcoming -- providing an explanation of the questionable pardons and a full list of the contributors to his foundation. But he won't, or hasn't so far. His lawyer says that a possible congressional subpoena of the foundation records would be a violation of the First Amendment. But if the public will understand as readily as he suggests, why doesn't Mr. Clinton volunteer the list?
It would be demeaning -- if not any longer to Mr. Clinton then to the office he held and in a way to Congress, too -- were he to be summoned to testify on the issuance of these pardons: the lobbying that surrounded them, the blandishments to which he possibly succumbed. Nor should committees of Congress be able at will to subpoena and publicize the contributor lists of private organizations -- and the principal House committee of inquiry is led by a chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, who inspires no confidence. But a presidential foundation, and gifts or pledges made before a president leaves office, are different from the ordinary.
The issue is whether the public trust was violated. Enough valid questions have been raised about some of these pardons to warrant a full accounting. Mr. Clinton should volunteer it, and not force the country to extract it from him.
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