Bush may have final word on scandal: 'Pardon me'


December 27, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

Larry Adler, a Maryland teen-ager, was due to report to jai Saturday for cheating on his SAT test.

The extraordinary punishment -- 10 days in jail and then nearly six months in a work release facility -- was not just for cheating, the judge pointed out, but because Adler had lied under oath about it.

Adler, 19, had pleaded guilty to perjury, which is a very serious crime.

Unless, that is, you are an acquaintance of George Bush.

In which case, it's an act of patriotism.

On Christmas Eve, Bush issued pardons to six men who had been charged with or convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-contra scandal.

Bush said he was issuing the pardons because the men were all motivated by patriotism (a defense used with much less success at Nuremberg).

But, in reality, Bush issued the pardons not because he thinks so highly of the six, but because he despises their prosecutor: independent counsel Lawrence Walsh.

To understand why, you have to go back to Bush's re-election campaign.

What issue could Bush use to retain his job? The Persian Gulf war? Forget it. The end of the Cold War? Nobody cared. The economy? Ha.

So lacking any positive issue, Bush looked for a negative one. He couldn't use a Willie Horton-type attack. Unlike Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton was not only in favor of capital punishment, but had actually executed a brain-damaged black man just before the New Hampshire primary. (No candidate ever lost a vote in New Hampshire for executing a black man.)

Which left Bush with but one arrow in his quiver: He accused Bill Clinton of being a liar.

According to the Bush campaign, Clinton lied about the draft. He lied about the women in his life. And he constantly changed his positions on issues.

"The White House is not a waffle house!" Bush would proclaim at each campaign stop.

Then Bush would draw a sharp contrast: While Clinton lied, Bush did not. Yes, he raised taxes, when he said he would not, but that was not for personal gain. And other than that one time, he had never, ever lied to the American people.

But on the Friday before Election Day, Lawrence Walsh dropped a safe on Bush's head. He re-indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for a note that indicated Bush had not been telling the truth when he said he had been "out of the loop" on the arms-for-hostages deal.

The effect was immediate. On Sunday, just two days before the election, Frank Sesno of CNN did a live interview with Bush that eviscerated him on the honesty question. Rarely, if ever, had a sitting president been subjected to such a scathing cross-examination. And when Sesno was done grilling Bush on Iran-contra, he swung into misrepresentations in Bush's TV ads.

Clearly, things had changed. On virtually the eve of the election, Lawrence Walsh had deprived Bush of his only issue: being more honest than Bill Clinton.

Bush was furious. He lost the election, and his fury grew.

So, in retaliation, Bush decided to rob Walsh of what Walsh needs after spending so many millions of dollars on this investigation: a significant conviction of a significant figure in the Ronald Reagan administration.

By pardoning Weinberger, Bush thinks he has made Walsh look ineffective, wasteful and foolish.

But what is so wrong with the pardon? Or, to put it another way, what is so wrong with lying to Congress? Is Congress so holy and free of error itself?

No. But democracy simply breaks down if the co-equal branches of government lie to each other.

If the executive branch lies to the legislative branch, thus making it impossible for the judicial branch to function, then we do not have the rule of law in this country.

We have, instead, rule by an elite band of self-styled "patriots," who can do what they will without any check or balance on their behavior.

And that is why Bush's pardon is so wrong.

Nor will it end the Iran-contra affair. Walsh now says he is making Bush the target of his investigation.

So if George Bush has any more pardons left in his bag of goodies, he might want to save at least one: for himself.

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