When President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, from any and all crimes he might have committed in the Watergate scandal, Ford’s approval rating dropped 20 points. He also lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter, and the Nixon pardon is oft-cited as the main reason. The New York Times called Ford’s decision “a profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act” that destroyed the new president’s “credibility as a man of judgment, candor, and competence.”
What Nixon did with regard to Watergate — essentially, his efforts to cover up the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the heart of the scandal — was candy theft compared to what we have seen with the worst president in history, Trump. And yet, Nixon resigned the presidency because Republicans in Congress would have joined Democrats in impeaching and convicting him. Washington was very different in 1974. Republicans in those days had some respect for the law and the Constitution.
Now it’s 2021 and there are calls — in some newspapers, I’m sorry to say — for his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, to pardon Trump (assuming Trump doesn’t pardon himself) and these pleas are coming from Republican leaders who think doing otherwise — having a second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate — will do more harm than good. People like Sen. Lindsey Graham and, here in Maryland, the extreme-right Republican congressman, Andy Harris, believe a trial of Trump will further divide the nation. We need to move on, they say.
To hell with that.
In my Sunday Sun column, I say letting Trump off the hook from impeachment and any federal crimes he might have committed mocks fairness and symbolizes, at the highest level, the double standard in the justice system we all acknowledge and detest.
The “moving on and healing” argument was essentially Gerald Ford’s thought in 1974, after Nixon’s resignation, and it’s what Republican’s used as a rationalization: The country needed to wake up from its long national nightmare and let Nixon go off into the sunset. His fall from grace, they said, was punishment enough.
But most of us were appalled. Nixon, who had won a landslide reelection in 1972, had some impressive accomplishments as president, but Watergate put a searchlight on his paranoid dark side and the sleazy system of dirty tricks at the highest levels of government.
Still it was penny candy compared to Trump and his gang.
Trump could pardon himself, and Politico reports today that he’s considering executive clemency for the sleazy Steve Bannon, his former advisor who is charged with swindling donors in a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for Trump’s border wall. The Times has a story about the hot market for Trump pardons — it sounds like a fire sale!
Given all the pardons he’s already bestowed on pals, Trump might even pardon the losers and louts who have been charged in connection with the sacking of the Capitol on Jan. 6. He is capable of anything prior to Biden’s inauguration in three days.
That Republicans remain tethered to Trump at this point means they still fear him and fear the base he inspired and incited. Whatever the reason, they are supporting the same double standard of justice that Ford endorsed with a stroke of a pen. It means the law-and-order party no longer has claim to that title.
Fortunately, there are state investigations of Trump underway, including one in Georgia, and no federal pardon will protect him from any criminal charges that might be brought at that level.