And vice-versa, one would imagine. Joe Biden tried dancing away from the ethics controversies involving son Hunter Biden while doing radio interviews in Iowa yesterday by focusing attention on Donald Trump’s alleged crimes. If Biden gets elected, he told one host, Trump had better not expect a pardon in 2021:
Five days ago, Biden for the first time called for Trump’s impeachment. Biden appeared Sunday afternoon at a forum sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Biden told the crowd of about 350 that it is a crime to ask a foreign power to interfere in a U.S. election.
During an interview with Radio Iowa later Sunday afternoon, Biden said if he is elected, he will not follow President Ford’s example in pardoning Nixon so Nixon was not prosecuted for his role in Watergate.
“It wouldn’t unite the country,” Biden said. “You’d say: ‘Wait a minute. I get a parking ticket and I’ve got to pay it. This happens to me and I’ve got to go to jail. This guy does all these things that put us jeopardy and he gets off? I think this is of a different nature. And I think President Ford, God love him he’s a good guy, I knew him pretty well, I think if he had to do it over again he wouldn’t have done it…because he didn’t get re-elected.”
Call me crazy, but I seriously doubt that Gerald Ford’s measure of the wisdom of the Nixon pardon was re-election. If that was Ford’s highest value, he never would have contemplated the pardon in the first place. Ford apparently never second-guessed his decision, which belies Biden’s conclusion here. For Ford, the issue was the necessity of putting an end to Watergate and allowing the country to get back to work. Ford also thought that the pardon — and especially Nixon’s acceptance of it — established Nixon’s guilt anyway:
President Gerald R. Ford was never one for second-guessing, but for many years after leaving office in 1977, he carried in his wallet a scrap of a 1915 Supreme Court ruling. A pardon, the excerpt said, “carries an imputation of guilt,” and acceptance of a pardon is “a confession of it.” …
“I must have talked to him 20 times about the pardon, and there was never a shred of doubt that he’d done the right thing,” said James Cannon, a Ford domestic policy adviser and author of a 1994 book about his presidency. During one of their discussions, Mr. Ford pulled out the 1915 clipping, from Burdick v. United States. “It was a comfort to him,” Mr. Cannon said. “It was legal justification that he was right.”
If Biden indeed knew Ford “pretty well,” he would have known that Ford never changed his mind about that decision. In fact, the later political consensus was that Ford made the correct decision on the pardon, as Ted Kennedy explained in 2001 when presenting Ford a Profile in Courage Award:
“At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon.
“I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us. He eminently deserves this award, and we are proud of his achievement.”
If Biden wants to focus his campaign on 45-year-old historical curiosities, at least he should get them right.
But what about a pardon for Trump? First Biden would have to win the nomination, a task which seems more difficult each week in the Democratic primary, and then win an election against Trump, which also looks more aspirational than likely at the moment. But if Biden managed to do that, it’s good to have him establish that his clemency decisions will be based on what will get him re-elected rather than what’s good for the country. Most people would have assumed that anyway, but at least Biden’s being honest about it.
Regardless, no one would expect a pardon of Trump by any succeeding Democrat administration anyway. Their bloody-mindedness in seeking his impeachment over the last two-plus years shows just how angry they are over his 2016 election victory and how dedicated they are in avenging it. This isn’t about Trump’s corruption as much as it is about Democrats’ abuse of power in the House, and how their base eggs them on to greater abuses in the name of revenge. Don’t think for a moment that a Democratic victory in the presidential election next year will slake that thirst. Democrats will still keep coming for Trump and for those who supported him. The last thing Democrats want to do is “unite the country,” as their chaotic quest for impeachment demonstrates.