On Aug. 9, 1974, a disgraced President Richard Nixon resigned from office. His successor, Gerald Ford, handed down a presidential pardon.
Nearly a half century ago, a president of the United States resigned from office. That president, of course, was Richard Nixon, who had been embroiled in the Watergate Scandal for years. Nixon’s vice president, Gerald Ford, took office and became the nation’s 38th president. His most controversial act during his short partial term of office was issuing a presidential pardon.
On Sept. 8, he granted “a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed.”
The pardon wiped clean whatever crimes Nixon committed (and denied committing). Nixon was off the hook.
Ford’s decision split the American people. If he hoped to eliminate the possibility of extreme polarization, it’s safe to say he failed in that endeavor.
Nixon resigned knowing he was not going to be back in office — the White House or any other office. He knew it was over.
He resigned in hopes of avoiding prosecution, yes. And he waited far too long to step down, yes. But he at least made the decision and stepped down when it became clear the legal mountains were only growing.
At that point, in a real sense, Nixon already faced his punishment.
Ford said he issued the pardon to help the country move forward. In his speech, he also showed compassion for his former boss and concern over his health.
I believe Ford did what he thought was for the best, more for the country than for Nixon.
But no other president (or presidential hopeful) should ever have to consider another presidential pardon.
Unfortunately, it isn’t working out that way
But now, as former President Donald Trump faces multiple indictments, something curious is happening. Some GOP candidates in the 2024 presidential race are talking about a presidential pardon for Trump.
He hasn’t been tried and certainly hasn’t been convicted, yet. So why are they talking about a pardon — even talking about considering one — now?
GOP candidate Asa Hutchinson told CBS’s Face the Nation it’s all about the votes. (Shocker!)
“First of all, there should not be any discussion during a presidential campaign,” he said. “You don’t put pardons out there to garner votes. That is premature. Obviously, if there’s a conviction —.”
I’m not sure where he was going there before the moderator asked him whether he thought former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley was just going for votes.
Maybe he was going to say that if Trump were convicted, that would be the time to consider a pardon. Maybe he was saying that if Trump were convicted, he would consider a pardon.
Well, talking about a pardon during an election campaign is still talking about a pardon.
Frankly, I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want any president given a pardon. If Trump actually broke the law, and prosecutors sufficiently prove it, he should face punishment. As questions build about current President Joe Biden, I have the same answer. If Biden broke the law and prosecutors sufficiently prove it, he should face punishment.
Nixon’s pardon — which came after he stepped down — should have sent a message to would-be leaders about their responsibility as leaders.
That message should have been that our political leaders should hold themselves to a higher standard.
Apparently, that message didn’t take.
Rather than debating whether a presidential pardon is appropriate, we should be debating why presidents might break the laws they’re sworn to uphold. When they put their hand on the Bible and take that oath, that should mean something.
If it doesn’t, they don’t belong in office in the first place.
They certainly shouldn’t deserve a “get out of jail free” pass.
If Trump didn’t break the law, great. If Biden didn’t break the law, great.
But if either (or both) have, they should face the music just as the rest of us would.