I’m afraid the Toussie pardon reversal doesn’t make any damn sense at all. Not as a straight story. The Bush White House openly admitting to an error, and making itself look super-silly by publicly reversing a controversial decision within 24 hours? Does that even remotely sound like the Bush White House we have come to know over the last 8 years?
So even though it was Christmas Eve, we had no choice but to mobilize the rightly famous 1115 fly-on-the-wall army of undercover agents. And, as always, they came through. So even though it’s Christmas Day, we put our nose to the grindstone, and bring you the sordid truth of the Toussie episode, exposing the cynical machinations underlying the for-public-consumption story-line.
First, the facts, short version:
— Early Tuesday afternoon, the White House announced 19 pardons and one commutation.
— By 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the New York Daily News had posted online a scathing story about the Toussie pardon, including the fact that “Toussie’s father, Robert, made his first political donation last April – $28,500 to the Republican National Committee.”
— By Wednesday afternoon, Dana Perino was announcing what is being described as the reversal of the pardon. She attributed the “reversal” to â€œinformation that has subsequently come to lightâ€, and frankly admitted that neither the White House counselâ€™s office nor the president had been aware of a political contribution by Toussieâ€™s father that â€œmight create an appearance of impropriety.â€
Except that it isn’t quite a reversal. Bush is essentially granting himself a do-over:
Based on information that has subsequently come to light, the President has directed the Pardon Attorney not to execute and deliver a Grant of Clemency to Mr. Toussie. The Pardon Attorney has not provided a recommendation on Mr. Toussie’s case because it was filed less than five years from completion of his sentence. The President believes that the Pardon Attorney should have an opportunity to review this case before a decision on clemency is made.
So it’s not like Bush canceled the pardon outright. He just deferred the pardon decision till the Pardon Attorney has had an opportunity to review the case. Not really a “No!”, just a “”Not so fast, buddy!” Except that they’re saying that to themselves, really.
So here’s what really went down and why. It wasn’t about pardoning and unpardoning Toussie at all. Toussie is just a pawn in a cruel game, a cold-blooded plot to sabotage Eric Holder’s nomination for Attorney-General.
First, they screened all pardon applications for cases that didn’t qualify for review by the Pardon Attorney because it hasn’t been five years since the completion of the sentence. Then, they winnowed it down to a shortlist of cases where the pardon would really create a stink, given the nature of the crime, something that would spontaneously spark outrage, both in the media and among obnoxious liberal bloggers. The final screen was that there had to be something they could plausibly point to as a reason for denying the pardon (plausible deniability, to coin a phrase), but it had to be something that the media could be counted on to quickly discover by themselves.
Toussie was just the poor sod whose case happened to fit the bill.
The point, of course: to draw as much media attention as possible to a pardon that didn’t go through the normal Justice Department review process. What better story hook than a sensational reversal of a controversial pardon? As the media lapped it all up, they could be counted on to diligently draw attention to that other notorious pardon that circumvented the Justice Department review process, Bill Clinton‘s pardon of Marc Rich.
Focusing public attention on the Marc Rich pardon would go a long way to helping Congressional Republicans derail Eric Holder’s nomination.
And the media, of course, have fallen for the whole shebang. Here are some of the obligatory references to the Marc Rich pardon that have been trotted out:
The Toussie episode comes as more lawyers appear to be going directly to the White House for consideration of pardons, rather than through Justice Department channels, according to people involved in the process. The most notorious recent instance came in 2001, when President Bill Clinton pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich, even though the Justice Department had not offered a formal recommendation.
Bushâ€™s predecessor, President Bill Clinton, was criticized for his last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich before leaving office in 2001. Richâ€™s former wife, Denise, had contributed between $250,000 and $500,000 to Clintonâ€™s foundation.
Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for issuing dozens of pardons in his final days that included fugitive financier Marc Rich …
In 2001, a congressional committee investigated the pardon President Bill Clinton granted to the billionaire financier Marc Rich on the final day of his presidency, after it came to light that Mr Rich’s ex-wife had made donations to the Democratic Party.
The incident mirrors a similar case under President Bill Clinton who pardoned the fugitive Marc Rich, even though the Justice Department had not offered a formal recommendation.
Some stories didn’t just provide an obligatory reference, they went the extra mile. Here’s Larry McShane in the the New York Daily News:
Back in 2001, President Clinton cleared the record of billionaire financier Marc Rich in a case reminiscent of the Isaac Toussie pardon – only on a far grander scale.
Fugitive financier Rich bolted the U.S. for Switzerland in 1983, dodging the largest tax fraud case in American history.
Eighteen years later, Clinton created an instant mess – and front-page headlines – by pardoning Rich in the final hours of his administration.
Clinton, like President Bush did for Toussie, issued the pardon without going through the usual process of checking with Justice Department officials.
Rich’s ex-wife, Manhattan socialite Denise Rich, donated more than $1 million to the Democratic Party before the pardon – suggesting a quid pro quo, which Clinton denied.
Rich never did a day behind bars – and never returned to the U.S. to face charges.
Toussie served a little time on his conviction. And his father contributed a mere $28,500 to the Republicans before his son’s pardon.
Rich’s staggering wealth came courtesy of an illegal oil-pricing scheme during the 1973 oil crisis and deals made with Iran despite a U.S. embargo, prosecutors said.
This is absolutely what the Bush White House wants to see in print. Very obliging of Larry McShane to deliver, in spades.
***Update, 6:36 p.m. ***
Josh Marshall at TPM is pretty much convinced that Bush may not have the legal authority to revoke Toussie’s pardon the way he’s trying to.