About that Toussie pardon…

ABOUT THAT TOUSSIE PARDON…. A lot of us expected Bush to sign a controversial pardon on Christmas Eve. We didn’t expect Bush to undo a controversial pardon on Christmas Eve, and yet, here we are.

President Bush turned Brooklyn’s Isaac Toussie into a poster boy for outrageous presidential pardons, granting, then rescinding, the order in 24 hours.

The mystery is how the administration ignored Toussie and his father’s background — a tale of payoff and corruption allegations spanning more than 45 years — in pardoning the son for a massive housing scam.

Even by the standards of the Bush White House, this entire mess is bizarre. On Tuesday, Bush pardoned Isaac Toussie, who falsified the finances of prospective homebuyers seeking HUD mortgages, and pleaded guilty in 2003 to mail fraud and lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The pardon itself was inexplicable — Toussie scammed hundreds of families, selling overpriced, poorly built homes to minority first-time buyers who couldn’t afford them, and was only sentenced to five months in prison. He’s been out of jail for several years, working as a real estate and marketing consultant.

Complicating matters, Toussie’s father, Robert, who had never made political contributions before, suddenly decided to donate more than $40,000 to Republicans earlier this year. A few months later, Toussie’s pardon petition was filed, and five months after that, Toussie’s record was made clean by presidential fiat.

That is, until Wednesday night, when the president changed his mind and decided to take back Toussie’s pardon.

There are all kinds of questions about what, exactly, transpired here. For example, the president and his spokesperson had pledged publicly, before this week, that all pardons would go through the pardon attorney at the Justice Department. Toussie’s application bypassed the DoJ and was taken directly to the White House counsel’s office.

Also, Toussie’s attorney is none other than Bradford Berenson, who was a top attorney in … wait for it … Bush’s White House counsel’s office from 2001 to 2003. Might he have used his connections to pull a few strings?

Dana Perino told reporters on Wednesday that the president now believes the pardon attorney “should have an opportunity to review this case before a decision on clemency is made.” That’s fine, but why didn’t the president believe that before he agreed to issue the pardon?

Moreover, it’s not altogether clear whether the president has the authority to issue a pardon and then take it back before it’s literally in the hands of the recipient.

And while we’re at it, just how much of this controversy has to do with the Republican drive to scuttle Eric Holder’s A.G. nomination?

The NYT noted yesterday, “It was clear from the timing and wording of the announcement that there had been major confusion or miscommunication, or both, within the White House bureaucracy over the Toussie case.”

For a White House known for extraordinary incompetence and the politicization of every aspect of government, the Toussie controversy helps put an exclamation point on the Bush presidency.

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