Might Obama Pardon Hillary and Petraeus?

By Bruce Chapman Published on January 20, 2016

In the Machiavellian world of White House politics, we have to wonder what the options are if the FBI recommends an indictment of Hillary Clinton for national security infractions incurred by her use of a private email server. According to a new Inspector General report, Secretary Clinton’s emails included Top Secret “and above” documents. One possibility is for the President to issue a pardon, but that surely immediately would damage Mr. Obama’s reputation as well as Ms. Clinton’s campaign.

But what if, knowing through his Attorney General, that an indictment was coming, President Obama decided to “put the whole question of email servers to rest” by issuing a pre-emptive pardon for the former Secretary of State, who has admitted that the private server was a “mistake”; and what if he linked that action with a pardon for the already-punished General David Petraeus who admitted using a private email server?

As is, the Administration is being criticized for speculation that Defense Secretary Ash Carter is considering further punishment of the four star Petraeus — architect of the successful Iraq “Surge” — in the form of a demotion. The President could point out that while in these new days of high tech communication we must be more vigilant than ever about national security, we also must have some “common sense” about the good intentions of people we have selected in the past for positions of responsibility: such as Clinton and Petraeus.

You see, the President’s aides would say, it’s not about the well-being of the Democratic ticket next fall, but the importance of keeping court cases from interfering with the public’s rights to review candidates’ qualifications without distractions.

To sweeten the package further, the President could pardon the ambassador that Secretary Clinton herself fired for using a private email server several years ago. It’s time to turn a new page. “Let me be clear,” the President could say, “the past is past, and now we will have rules that everyone understands applies at all levels of government.”

The Republicans and the conservative media would howl, of course, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page would seek to revive the Nixon scandal. Bob Woodward, who helped scope Watergate, already has said he sees similarities between the Nixon cover-up and the Clinton case, and he would be quoted again as an authority. The New York Times would tut-tut. But then the Times and its columnists, MSNBC and probably the broadcast network commentators, would say we have to “move forward.” (“Move on” would not be a good phrase to use, would it, since it evokes memories of Mrs. Clinton’s husband?)  The “good of the country,” the “need to focus on the great issues that face us,” the democratic imperative to “let the process of the election competition proceed.” Et cetera.

There would be a storm … and then what? How many Americans of undecided political persuasion even remember the Nixon pardon? How many of today’s electorate think that the provenance of email servers is a big deal? Officials get hacked all the time. What are a few more thousand classified emails read by our enemies? Who cares?

We could find out.


Bruce Chapman is a Founding Fellow of Discovery Institute.

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