"We plan to be working until the very end of the administration, and the president wants to make sure his cabinet and staff are protected from prosecution for all their work," the official said.
In an earlier press conference, the president had revealed his thinking on this, saying, "One mistake my dad made was pardoning his fellas for Iran Contra on Christmas Eve, which my advisers tell me is nearly a month from the leaving office day. They could a done a lot of work for Poppy in that month and they wouldn't a had immunity. That would have a tragedery, which is to say a strategic tragedy."
The official said president Bush will take a stack of pardon forms with him to the inauguration with most of the crimes of administration officials filled in, but space left to write in last minute actions on behalf of the administration.
A likely candidate for needing a very last minute pardon is Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. His claim that Wall Street needed $700 billion or the country would collapse into chaos hasn't stood up under scrutiny of economic data and looks even more suspect since the money doled out was used on mergers, executive bonuses, and massive parties with male prostitutes and swimming pools full of cocaine. Those receiving the bailout funds will likely be pardoned in order of their contributions to the George W. Bush Presidential lieberry.
Dick Cheney will certainly be pardoned, but the nature of his last minute actions needing pardon is not clear. It may be anything from negotiating his salary for his return to Halliburton based on the size of last minute no-bid contracts he can throw to the company, coercing the CIA into claiming that Osama bin Laden is hiding in Venezuela, or simply strangling a child's puppy to savor the moment when the life goes out of its eyes.
Karl Rove's last minute pardonable offenses are also difficult to predict. His role in outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and the firing of US attorneys unwilling to pursue partisan prosecutions is already on the record, and growing evidence points to his role in electronic vote rigging. His last contribution could come in any of these areas: smearing, undermining our judicial system, or tampering with elections.
Since Alberto Gonzalez has already left the administration, his pardon could be completed now since his role in drafting and approving memos that allowed torture so long as it didn't result in organ failure or death is firmly in the past. Gonzalez has done nothing noteworthy since, largely because he can't find a job. The corporate world loves toadies, but even they have some limits of taste if not decency.
The greatest mystery is what President Bush himself will do that will need pardoning. Ironically, in spite of his own claims of guilt in authorizing torture and warrantless wiretapping and joking about lying about WMD in Iraq, legal scholars are unsure if Bush can be prosecuted for any of the actions of the administration since he probably didn't actually authorize anything and could barely read let alone understand the talking points on cue cards about his administration's actions.
"It's a classic legal conundrum," Professor John Doakes of Bethesda University said. "How incompetent does someone have to be before they aren't responsible for their actions? For example, if someone gives a monkey a gun, and he shoots someone, who do you prosecute, the monkey or the person who gave them a gun?"
Bush may pardon himself just to be safe even if he might not actually know what a pardon is.