Why did President Ronald Reagan refuse to give Armand Hammer a pardon, even though Hammer promised over $1 million to the Reagan Library, and President George Bush grant him a pardon, even though Hammer made no contribution to his library?


Armand Hammer had committed two crimes after Nixon had won the election. The first was violating the campaign finance law that had gone into effect on April 7,1972 that made it a federal crime to contribute money anonymously to political campaigns. He had had delivered an anonymous contribution of laundered hundred dollar bills, in "safe money" on January 17, 1973 that had been used in the Watergate coverup (Money Hammer kept in a slush fund a UBS. account in Switzerland.)

His second and more serious crime was obstruction of justice. To conceal his illegal cash contribution from the Watergate investigation, Hammer had coordinated a cover-up involving false witnesses, perjury, back-dated promissory notes and false statements to the FBI by a half-dozen individuals. Although Hammer's hastily improvised cover up might have worked against a superficial examination of campaign contributions, it did not stand up against the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. His false witnesses made deals and identified Hammer as the true source of the illegal funds and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

His lawyer, Washington insider Edward Bennett Williams, worked out a deal in which Hammer would plead guilty to the lesser charges of making an illegal campaign contribution and, in return, the government would not prosecute Hammer for obstruction of justices. So Hammer pleaded guilty to three counts of making illegal campaign contributions and, in 1976, Judge Lawrence Lydick sentenced Hammer to a $3,000 fine and one year's probation.

In 1984, Hammer began his four-year campaign to get a pardon from President Reagan. He retained Bruce Kauffman, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and a team of top Washington lawyers, and insisted that his pardon should be based on a "finding of innocence." In his petition, Kauffman asserted: "The need for rectification is urgent because, among other things... The Nobel Prize will be decided [and]... Dr. Hammer is under consideration for such honor, but will be impeded by this unjust blot on his otherwise unblemished record."

In addition, Hammer made a direct appeal for assistance in the matter to Edwin Meese III, Reagan's newly appointed Attorney-General. He stressed to Meese the need "to clear my name from the unjust blemish received in the aftermath of the Nixon Administration." He then invited Meese and others in Reagan's inner circle to his gala birthday party and me contributed heavily to the Presidential Dinner, which helped fund the Republican Party.

But Hammer's application went through channels to the Department of Justice, where the FBI noted Hammer had been the subject of an inconclusive Corruption of Public Officials investigation in 1979, and attorneys in the criminal prosecution division objected to the President granting Hammer a pardon based on a finding of innocence. Since, if granted, it implied that an innocent person had been coerced into pleading guilty. Hammer of was not innocent: he had voluntarily agreed to admit his guilt to misdemeanors in return for the government dropping the more serious felony charges of obstruction of justice.

Reagan, without the concurrence of the Department of Justice, did not grant Hammer his pardon in 1985. Hammer persisted, however.

In 1986, he pledged one million dollars to the planned Ronald Reagan Library, which made him the largest single pledger of funds for this project. Even so, he did not receive his pardon in 1986 or in 1987. Hammer then increased his commitment to the Reagan Library $1.3 million.

On leaving office, Reagan granted 32 pardons, none of which went to Hammer. (Hammer afterwards did not fulfill his pledge to the Reagan library fund.)

Hammer next turned to George Bush. He hired Howard Baker, the former chief of staff to Reagan, who also had a close liaison with Bush when he served as Vice President, as his lobbyist. He also contributed $110,000 to the Republican Party's National State Election Committee. But President Bush also looked to his Justice Department.

So Hammer, now 91, had his lawyers modify his pardon application. Instead of asking for a finding of innocence, he settled for a pardon based on Presidential compassion. The prosecutors did not object to a pardon that did not vindicate Hammer. And, on August 14th, Bush granted Hammer his pardon.

Thus, Presidents Reagan and Bush predicated their decisions on pardoning Hammer on the objections, or lack of objections, of their respective Department of Justice. Reagan elected not override its recommendation even though Hammer was the single-largest supporter of his library. Bush granted the pardon only after the prosecutors in the Department of Justice withdrew their objections.

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