This is from Dan Froomkin’s “White House Watch” column on Washingtonpost.com:
Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times: "Felons are asking President Bush for pardons and commutations at historic levels as he nears his final months in office, a time when many other presidents have granted a flurry of clemency requests."
But my ears really pricked up when Savage raised this question: "Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs?
"Such a pardon would reduce the risk that a future administration might undertake a criminal investigation of operatives or policy makers involved in programs that administration lawyers have said were legal but that critics say violated laws regarding torture and surveillance.
"Some legal analysts said Mr. Bush might be reluctant to issue such pardons because they could be construed as an implicit admission of guilt. But several members of the conservative legal community in Washington said in interviews that they hoped Mr. Bush would issue such pardons -- whether or not anyone made a specific request for one. They said people who carried out the president's orders should not be exposed even to the risk of an investigation and expensive legal bills.
"'The president should pre-empt any long-term investigations,' said Victoria Toensing, who was a Justice Department counterterrorism official in the Reagan administration. 'If we don't protect these people who are proceeding in good faith, no one will ever take chances.'"
Overuse has rendered the four-letter N word unusable for referring to anyone but Hitler, but doesn’t Toensing’s argument sound a lot like pardoning people for “only following orders?” Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?