REMEMBER FEBRUARY 2001?…. As part of their “Banana Republic” attacks, Republicans have argued that it’s wrong to investigate a presidential administration after it’s over. John McCain said, “In Banana Republics they prosecute people for actions they didn’t agree with under previous administrations.” Kit Bond said, “This whole thing about punishing people in past administrations reminds me more of a Banana Republic than the United States of America. We don’t criminally prosecute people we disagree with when we change office.”

And Karl Rove, of course, said it would be “very dangerous” to see one administration “threaten prosecutions against the previous administration, based on policy differences.”

As we’ve talked about this week, this is ridiculous for any number of reasons, but Sam Stein notes the hypocrisy — by pointing to February 2001.

In the early months of 2001, as the Bush administration was publicly urging people to “look forward,” Republicans in Congress were consumed by two decidedly backward-looking investigations. The most prominent of these was the controversial pardon of [Marc] Rich, the fugitive financier whose ex-wife had donated heavily to Democratic causes.

This is “outrageous,” said then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who called for a congressional investigation. “We should at least take a look at what happened and ask ourselves, should we take some action to try to prevent abuses that do occur?”

“Congress has an obligation to find out if this was appropriate,” said House Government Reform Committee Chair Dan Burton (R-IN) on January 26. “[My] panel will obtain ‘subpoenas if necessary’”

“It needs to be investigated,” said then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. “I think it is worthy of investigation. The facts cry out for an answer to be given for why is it that this man was pardoned. Because the pardon process is an important thing. … Until we get the answers to this question, that whole process is put in some jeopardy of being misunderstood by the public.”

“While the president alone possesses the power to pardon,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell. “it’s important to remember that he is not personally exempt from federal laws that prohibit the corrupt actions of all government officials.”

And that was just the Marc Rich issue. In 2001, Congress also demanded and received a lengthy investigation into White House “vandalism” caused by Clinton staffers, which ended up lasting nearly nine months.

Now, I suspect the response to this from Republicans is that this was different. The Rich pardon and alleged “vandalism” might have involved high-ranking White House officials engaging in illegal acts. Under those circumstances, GOP lawmakers in 2001 had no choice but to investigate and uphold the law.

Do you suppose it would matter to these same Republican lawmakers that torture is illegal? And systematic abuse is at least as serious a controversial presidential pardon?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.