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
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