The FBI pardons and the law

"Certainly there's no intention on the President's part to ever imply that any government agency should break the law, particularly a law enforcement agency."

These words from a White House spokesman are welcome. They ought to alert all American law enforcement agencies in the future as Mr. Reagan ends a controversial chapter from the FBI's past. The President's pardon of two former top FBI officials came shortly after the government had agreed to pay damages to several victims of FBI law violations during the drive against the radical Weather Underground. The pardoned men had bee convicted by a jury of conspiring to violate the rights of citizens by authorizing illegal break-ins at that time.

The White House words against governmental law-breaking may have been stating the obvious on Mr. Reagan's behalf. But they were a useful corrective to any false impression left by an earlier White House statement that he considered the decision of the jury in the FBI case to be wrong. His spokesman clarified this by saying that the President was not passing judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the jury decision.

Clearly the court system would be undermined if any president were to start overturning jury decisions just because he disagreed with them. In this case, the President reasoned that the convictions of W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller "grew out of their goodfaith belief that their actions were necessary to preserve the security interests of our country." His decision to temper justice with mercy is not an invitation to violations by their successors in the agency.

Indeed, today's FBI shows no disposition to repeat bygone errors. ITs officials know that effective law enforcement depends on kee ping the enforcers within the law.

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