Will President Bush Issue Preemptive Pardons?

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," November 25, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: Well, there has been a round of last-minute pardons from outgoing President Bush. And there are no big names on the list, only 14 criminals were pardoned. Two more had their sentences commuted, among them, a Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist who worked for the band, The Fugees. John Edward Forte — that's his name. Well, he was arrested in 2000 on a cocaine charge. He served half of his 14-year sentence.

Meanwhile, there is speculation over whether or not the president will preemptively issue pardons for government employees who were involved in harsh interrogation of terror suspects after 9/11.

Joining me now to talk about this is FOX News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr.

Video: Watch Heather Nauert's interview

Peter, let's start with this rapper. Why did President Bush pardon a rapper? He apparently was arrested back in 2000 with a briefcase that contained $1.4 million worth of cocaine. And his supporters say he didn't get a fair trial. He served seven years of that 14-year sentence.

PETER JOHNSON, JR., FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. It's an interesting choice. You wouldn't quite associate it with President Bush ...

NAUERT: Yes. President Bush — a rapper?

JOHNSON: ... giving him a pardon. But, you know, the truth is most people find most pardons to be objectionable, if not reprehensible. They say, well, this is a criminal. This is a person who has been convicted. And when you accept a pardon by definition under the law, you are admitting the guilt, and so this man will now go free.

On its face, you say, well, $1.4 million of cocaine in his possession in a briefcase, a trial was held and he was convicted. What circumstances would have led the president? Well, under Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution, the president has the right to give these pardons.

There is an Office of the Pardon attorney that reviews these pardon requests. There are about 2,000 of them pending. We will see probably some more before year-end. But will we see the pardons that some people want to see?

NAUERT: And lots of folks write in and they ask about a couple of border patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Why not pardon them? These two men were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler and then they tried to cover it up. They are serving sentences right now, ten years each.

JOHNSON: You know, a lot of constituencies and a lot of interest groups in believe that certain people should be pardoned, that certain conduct that was engaged in was not actually a crime or that they received an unfair trial. A lot of people are going to be disappointed.

The truth is that George Bush, compared to at least a couple of his predecessors, including President Clinton, has been giving out maybe half the amount of pardons, commutations and reprieves that have been given in the past. So there are going to be a lot of other people disappointed, other speculation, Michael Milken, Congressman Duke Cunningham.

NAUERT: Cunningham of California.

JOHNSON: You know —

NAUERT: OK. One other thing — what about the notion of preemptive pardons? There are, of course, some Americans, government employees who were involved in interrogating terror suspects. Some on the left and some human rights groups are saying we need to look at war crimes or consider these things war crimes, what these people did, even though it was ordered by the government.


NAUERT: What about that? Ever heard of a preemptive pardon?

JOHNSON: Well, that's a possibility. You can be pardoned for something that haven't been convicted for yet, or even indicted for yet. And we have to understand that in American history, there have been a series of very controversial pardons. President Ford's pardon of former President Nixon, Andrew Johnson's after the Civil War of confederate officials, a pardon by President Bush to the first of the Iran contra officials.

So there is a possibility that, in fact the president could pardon in a blanket way people who have had an involvement with such interrogations, and really, you know, spare them any future prosecution.

NAUERT: And that can never be overturned? All right.

JOHNSON: No, it's the president's word and it's done.

NAUERT: It's the president. All right. Peter Johnson, Jr., thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Good to see you, Heather.

NAUERT: Thanks for coming in.

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