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Obama makes a promise about presidential pardons

December 15, 2007 | 11:48 am

There he was, another presidential candidate plugging his way across icy Iowa: Barack Obama in Day Two of a six-day bus trip, making the third of five stops for the day. Each requires remarks. Each requires Q & A. It's a grinding routine. But each stop is another opportunity to gather one or two more caucus votes for Jan. 3. And time, like daylight in December, is growing short.

Obama was speaking in Manchester, Iowa, at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. About 200 people, including The Times' ever-so-handsome veteran political reporter Mark Z. Barabak, had gathered in the teen-degree cold, bundled all puffy in their winter coats and scarves and funny hats. On the wall was a big bingo board where some clever Obama advance person had laid one of his trademark red-white-and-blue dawn-is-breaking "O" stickers over the O in "bingo."

The senator from Illinois spoke for the usual 20 minutes, then took questions. A man asked about the presidential pardon power and the ability to pardon people in cases in which the president might have a conflict of interest.

"Scooter Libby justice," Obama interjected. The man wanted to know about the prospect of rescinding the presidential right to pardon in such instances. Judges don't do it, he said. Why should the president?

Obama, the former constitutional law professor, noted that pardons were a power granted in the Constitution and that changing that would mean "we would have to amend things and change, you know, 200 years of tradition."

"Here's what I guarantee you, though," Obama added. "Here's a promise I'll make. I will not pardon somebody who was part of my administration and who broke the law in part, probably, to cover my backside. That is not something I will do."

Then, the Democratic candidate also guaranteed that he would have an attorney general "who understands that his job is not to be the president's lawyer, but to be the people's lawyer."

Then again, the generous candidate made a third promise: "I will have the attorney general review every single executive order that's been issued by the president of the United States," Obama vowed, and during his first year in office he would repeal any that undermine civil liberties.

Obama finished up the stop with a clear statement of principles: "Nobody's supposed to be above the law, including the president of the United States or the people who work for him."

Or her.

-- Andrew Malcolm