The Constitution says the president can grant "reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States." Used rightly, this power can enhance justice.
Used wrongly or questionably, it can undermine public confidence in evenhanded justice. In this regard, Bill Clinton's last-minute pardon of financier Marc Rich is troublesome.
For the past 17 years, Mr. Rich has lived in Switzerland to avoid US charges that he evaded $48 million in taxes and illegally traded Iranian oil. Pleas to pardon Rich came from his former wife, a major contributor to the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign; from Israel (where he is a major charitable donor); and from well-connected Democratic lawyers representing Rich.
Maybe the billionaire financier has done a lot of good with his charitable giving. But the fact is he used his money and power to evade justice, and he now appears to have used the same levers to win a pardon.
Mr. Clinton's acquiescence in this matter taints the pardon process. That process normally includes a review of possible pardons by the Justice Department (missing in the Rich case). Perhaps it should also include an airing of prospective pardons to get responses from the public before the fact, instead of after.
May future presidents use their pardon power more carefully.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society