With FBI Director James Comey’s statement this week that the massive investigation of possible criminality by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could linger into the fall, some of her political advisers have become convinced that the best option for her would be to shut it down now, which could be accomplished if President Obama would grant a preemptive pardon for any crimes she may have committed.
“It would be a humbling experience for Mrs. Clinton to accept a pardon, but she and husband Bill have ridden out terrible scandals in the past without losing their bedrock constituencies,” an official close to the campaign told Orbmagazine. “And without a pardon, the possible scenarios she is facing are fraught with danger.”
You may have noticed a look of fear in the candidate’s face in the past two weeks, and it’s not just because she has lost seven straight contests to Senator Bernie Sanders. It’s also because the yearlong investigation by 147 FBI agents into her use of a home-brew unsecured e-mail server to send and receive classified national security information, as well as the possible intermingling of Clinton Foundation fundraising with her government largesse, is drawing to a close.
Mrs. Clinton will soon be interviewed under oath about these matters, and if her testimony doesn’t match up with that of others, she could be charged with lying to an FBI agent, which is a felony. The man she hired to set up and monitor the secret server (and then kept on the State Department payroll throughout her tenure), Bryan Pagliano, has been granted immunity from prosecution by the Department of Justice. He has now been exhaustively questioned and debriefed about the details of this clandestine undertaking. If it turns out that he lied to the agents, his immunity would be nullified, so it is likely he told the truth. But how will Hillary know what story to tell the FBI without Pagliano’s collusion and cooperation with her—and he is, at the moment, off the reservation. Plus, other of Mrs. Clinton’s underlings at State have been questioned under oath, and who knows what Clinton secrets they have revealed to the Bureau? It puts her in danger.
Four of the former Secretary’s top assistants at State–Cheryl Mills, Philippe Reines, Heather Samuelson (who deleted the 31,800 e-mails that Hillary claims were personal, not official), and Jake Sullivan (who is known to have forwarded “top-secret” e-mails to Hillary’s unsecured server)—have all retained the same lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, to represent them.
“The united front suggests they plan to tell investigators the same story—although legal experts say the joint strategy presents its own risks should the interests of the four aides begin to diverge as the probe moves ahead,” writes Politico.com. “If one of the aides ends up in criminal jeopardy, choosing a ‘common-defense’ strategy could mean trouble for that staffer, who may need to say something adverse about his or her attorney’s other clients.”
These are some of the reasons that senior members of the Clinton campaign are said to have reached out to Valerie Jarrett, the intimate of the Obamas who represents the White House in these delicate matters, to raise the pros and cons of granting Mrs. Clinton a full pardon prior to any interview with the FBI.
“It’s just like the Martha Stewart situation—she went to jail not for insider trading, but for lying to the feds about her trades,” a Democrat party insider told us. “The political appointees at the D.O.J. might be inclined to give Hillary a free pass for recklessly exposing national security info and for granting favors to Clinton Foundation donors, but there is no way they could overlook her making false statements while being questioned under oath by FBI agents.”
The thinking is, if the Clintons can convince Obama to give Hillary a preemptive pardon, along the lines of the one that President Ford gave Richard Nixon soon after replacing him in the White House, she can tell her supporters that she had to accept it because she was being victimized by a vast right-wing conspiracy. And guess what, it just might work. Luckily for her, FBI Director Comey is a registered Republican who donated to McCain in 2008 and to Romney in 2012. He was Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush. Before that, he was the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, where he led the prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of the aforementioned Martha Stewart for making false statements to federal investigators and for obstructing justice.
Now do you see why Mrs. Clinton has that worried expression on her face? Facing a panoply of unpleasant scenarios, a presidential pardon might be the least lethal. What if she managed to secure the Democratic nomination in July, only to be indicted in September? Talk about a fine how-do-ya-do—the party would be upended as never before in history. Another ugly scenario: what if Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department were to drag out the investigation until after the election, and if Donald Trump were to be elected and inaugurated? His new Attorney General would try to lock up Mrs. Clinton for the rest of her life. Trump already said he would choose an A.G. specifically qualified and determined to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
Better to bite the bullet now and get it out of the way. Hillary’s lead over Sanders of 253 pledged delegates might hold steady until July, and her 469 “superdelegates” are mostly party hacks who will stick with the Clintons on the theory that “the crooks we know are better than the crooks we don’t know and our deals with them are cut”. Certainly few will be “shocked” if Hillary accepts a pardon: in Wisconsin, as in previous states, 40% of Democratic primary voters told exit pollsters that they think Mrs. Clinton is dishonest and a liar.
Now the decision is in Barack Obama’s hands, and it is not an easy one. Gerald Ford never recovered from the blowback caused by his pardon of Nixon–it probably cost him the 1976 election. But Obama understands that his accomplishments will be undone and his legacy dismantled if he is succeeded by a Republican.
If he gives Mrs. Clinton a preemptive pardon now and she manages to get nominated, by October it might have faded as a partisan issue. If a pardon further tarnishes the Clinton brand and Sanders continues to trounce her, as he is doing now, he might not be such a bad nominee—he’s currently beating all three Republican candidates in the national polls. Or perhaps Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren just might magically appear and be nominated in a brokered convention.
Whatever happens, there never has been and never again will be a presidential campaign so surreal. The maestro himself, Federico Fellini, could not have concocted characters as fantastical as Donald and Melania, Ted and Heidi, Bernie and Jane, and Bill and Hillary. When the nation is living through a political narrative stranger than science fiction, a mid-campaign presidential pardon for one of the candidates is really no big deal.
This melodrama still has a long way to go. Fox News analyst Monica Crowley was the just-out-of-grad-school foreign policy assistant to Richard Nixon at the end of his life. One of the last things the wise and prescient 37th president ever said to her, in his solemn basso profundo, was, “Monica, we will never be rid of the Clintons.”