Washington Watching As Obama Ponders When And How To Pardon Hillary Clinton For Email Crimes

Will Obama pardon Clinton? And if he does, will she accept?

From Pres. Obama’s perspective, the decision to grant or withhold a pardon is a political and a personal one. Legal considerations do not directly arise.

Executive orders barring offshore drilling in most U.S. Arctic waters; an abstention at the U.N. permitting the Security Council to declare all Israeli settlement activity to be illegal and an obstacle to peace; the possibility of further action at the U.N. to formalize the administration’s comprehensive vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—Pres. Obama is sprinting, not jogging, to the finish-line.

In dashing through his last few weeks in office, will one of Pres. Obama’s final acts be to pardon Hillary Clinton for any violations of federal law she might have committed while she was secretary of state?

It’s an interesting and complex question

We should first note that the Obama administration’s decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton would not bind the Trump administration. Until relevant statutes of limitations have expired, she could still be prosecuted by the new administration. It is possible in my opinion for Clinton to be prosecuted for either her improper handling of classified information on “home brew,” or allegations of “pay to play” arrangements between the secretary of state and donors to the Clinton Foundation, which could constitute bribery.

Would President Obama pardon Clinton?

The statute of limitations for most federal crimes is five years from the commission of the offense; that would apply to the two categories relevant to Mrs. Clinton. Her tenure as secretary of state ended Feb. 1, 2013, so it is possible that the statute of limitations will not run out until Feb. 1, 2018, more than a year after Mr. Trump takes office.

What looks like one question—will the president pardon Mrs. Clinton?—turns out, on analysis, to be two. The first question is: Would Mrs. Clinton wish to receive a pardon?

That question seems to be a proverbial no-brainer. Surely, any person who had been in federal government would be eager to receive a presidential pardon, because it eliminates even the possibility of federal prosecution. That looks like all upside and no downside.

Josh Earnest on Whether Obama Would be Open to Pardoning Hillary Clinton:

But there is a downside, and it isn’t trivial. A pardon must be accepted by the person who is pardoned if it is to effectively stymie any prosecution.

Furthermore, there is solid legal precedent that acceptance of a pardon is equivalent to confession of guilt. A U.S. Supreme Court case from 1915 called Burdick v. U.S. establishes that principle; it has never been overturned.

If acceptance of a pardon by Mrs. Clinton would amount to confession of guilt, would she nevertheless accept it? A multitude of factors would go into her decision.

She, together with her attorneys, would have to decide how likely it is that the Trump administration would prosecute her, and, if they did decide to prosecute, how likely it is they would be able to prove she had committed crimes.

Since being elected, Mr. Trump has been remarkably warm towards the person he used to call “crooked Hillary.” But how confident could Mrs. Clinton be that the Justice Department, under a Trump administration, would not prosecute?

Prosecutorial decisions are supposed to be independent of political considerations, so Mr. Trump’s recent friendliness should not be controlling once the new Attorney General is in office.

If Mrs. Clinton believes prosecutors might be able to make a strong case against her, the value to her of a pardon increases. If she is confident that any case against her would be weak or even futile, the pardon has less value.

If Mrs. Clinton decides that, everything considered, she would prefer to receive a pardon, she would no doubt be able to convey that message to Pres. Obama, and then the ball would be in his court. Thus, the second question is: Would Pres. Obama grant Mrs. Clinton’s request for a pardon?

From Pres. Obama’s perspective, the decision to grant or withhold a pardon is a political and a personal one. Legal considerations do not directly arise.

Like all presidents at the end of their terms, he is concerned about the “legacy” he leaves for history. Does he want his legacy to include a pardon of the secretary of state who served under him during the entirety of his first term in office?

Because acceptance of a pardon amounts to a confession of guilt, the acceptance by Mrs. Clinton would, to a degree, besmirch both Mrs. Clinton and also Pres. Obama. After all, Mrs. Clinton was Pres. Obama’s secretary of state. If she was committing illegal acts as secretary, it happened literally on his watch.

On the other hand, if the new administration were to prosecute and convict Mrs. Clinton of crimes committed while she was secretary, that might be an even greater embarrassment for Obama post-presidency.

In addition to calculations regarding his legacy, Pres. Obama and Mrs. Clinton surely have developed over many years, both as opponents and as teammates, a personal relationship. If Mrs. Clinton were to ask Pres. Obama for a pardon, how would that personal relationship play into his response? I cannot say.

Days after Mr. Trump won the election, the White House press secretary was asked by Jordan Fabian of The Hill whether Pres. Obama would consider pardoning Mrs. Clinton. He carefully avoided a direct answer.

Will Obama pardon Clinton?

Will Obama pardon Clinton?

Instead, the press secretary said that, in cases where Pres. Obama had granted pardons, “[w]e didn’t talk in advance about those decisions.” He also expressed hope that the new administration would follow “a long tradition in this country of people in power not using the criminal justice system to exact political revenge.”

Of course, there is also a long tradition in this country that no one is above the law, no matter how high a position in government he or she might have formerly occupied.

So, those are the main considerations that would go into deciding a very complex question. It’s time for all of us to show our hands.

I’m saying yes, he will pardon her.

1 Comment

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One response to “Washington Watching As Obama Ponders When And How To Pardon Hillary Clinton For Email Crimes


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