A pardon for Weinberger would be painful for GOP ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

November 10, 1992|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, whose presidential-candidate days are probably but not necessarily behind him, says President Bush ought to consider pardoning not only indicted former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger but all other Reagan-Bush era figures implicated in the Iran-contra scandal.

"If you're gonna do one, you do them all," Dole said on CBS News' Sunday show, "Face the Nation."

The notion of putting the affair behind the Republican Party, and the country, once and for all has a certain appeal, especially to a man who is now positioned to be the party's ranking elected official and spokesman when Bush leaves the presidency, and could run again despite his age (69).

But aside from the appearance of such pardons as a naked effort by Bush to save his own skin -- he remains under a cloud of suspicion.

Pardons for Weinberger and other Iran-contra principals by the lame-duck president would mark the second time in the last two Republican presidential eras -- first Nixon-Ford and then Reagan-Bush -- that a GOP president had acted to short-circuit investigations of major scandals going right to the top of a Republican administration.

Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, shortly after he succeeded to the Oval Office upon Nixon's resignation in the Watergate affair, brought Ford political grief from which he never recovered. It clearly was a major factor in his narrow defeat two years later at the hands of Jimmy Carter.

Ford's proclamation on taking over from Nixon that "our national nightmare is over" was true only in the short-term sense. The whole Watergate scandal, capped by Ford's pardon of Nixon, dealt a severe blow to the new president's future.

The pardon also enabled Nixon to continue the fiction that somehow he was jobbed out of the presidency. And it enabled him to make his incredible return to grace -- and influence -- in the eyes of many Americans.

The failure less than a year before to bring to trial Nixon's vice NTC president, Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned in disgrace after allegations that he took payoffs as governor of Maryland and later in the White House, similarly enabled Agnew to contend forever after that he had been railroaded.

The Republican Party rebounded quickly from these two black marks, regaining the White House under Ronald Reagan in the first presidential election free of the Agnew resignation, Watergate taint and Nixon pardon.

It was said by many then that never again would a national administration, and especially a Republican one, act with such arrogance and disregard for the law.

In that very next GOP administration, however, came Iran-contra and another string of indictments and convictions (some but not all overturned), capped by the charges that Weinberger deceived Congress over what evidence he had regarding the arms-for-hostages swap.

For a Republican president to bar getting to the truth of the situation by pardoning an indicted key administration official before trial would risk indicting the party itself in public opinion for years to come.

Dole and others have suggested that the timing of the indictment, which was filed by the Republican prosecutor and included a Weinberger memo indicating that Bush was clearly "in the loop" on the whole arms-for-hostages deal, was nevertheless a Democratic plot to derail Bush in the final days of his re-election campaign.

But the judge made clear at an Oct. 9 hearing that he wanted any indictment filed with dispatch so that a trial could begin as scheduled on Jan. 5, and the prosecutor's office indicated it would do so by the end of the month.

In any event, just as the Watergate pardon of Nixon prevented justice from running its normal course, Iran-contra pardons now would do so yet again.

While it no doubt is true that the public has had its fill of Iran-contra, the new evidence of Bush's complicity demands that he not repeat the mistake of the Watergate pardon.

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