The top lawyer for the Democratic minority on the House Judiciary Committee has said there is legal precedence that would allow President George W. Bush to rescind a number of controversial pardons issued in the last hours of Bill Clinton’s presidential term.

Julian Epstein, chief Democrat minority counsel for the committee, said Tuesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” program that Bush could rescind the pardons “if they haven’t been delivered.”

“President Bush actually has the legal ability to rescind these pardons if they haven’t been delivered. Ulysses Grant rescinded pardons that were given out by President Johnson [around 1870],” Epstein said.

King asked Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who appeared on the same program, if any of the pardons might be rescinded.

“People are casting judgments, but it’s on the improper use of [the pardon] and not on the criminal conduct — that’s what we need to withhold judgment on,” Hutchinson said.

The House Subcommittee on the Constitution has scheduled hearings for today “to explore the constitutional basis for, the evolution in the law of, and the history of implementation of the President’s Article II power ‘to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States.'”

Terry Shaw, a spokesman for the subcommittee, told WorldNetDaily that it has been a century since Congress examined the issue of presidential pardons.

When asked if the timing of the hearings had anything to do with the recent controversy over dozens of last-minute pardons issued by Clinton, Shaw said, “No. … we’re looking at the presidential pardon power, to look at and review Article II.”

“There are questions we have voiced … about whether the current clemency process can be improved, how have presidents over the years used the clemency powers and how it should be used by current and future presidents,” Shaw said.

The Judiciary Committee’s website explains the history of the presidential pardon:

“By the time of the Constitutional Convention, the executive pardoning power was firmly established in the common law; therefore, the delegates adopted the clause with little debate. For over 100 years, a federal official (currently the DOJ’s pardon attorney) has had the duties of accepting and reviewing applications for clemency and preparing recommendations for the president. Detailed Justice Department regulations govern the petition for clemency process. However, these Justice Department regulations are advisory in nature and do not limit the president’s pardon power.”

WorldNetDaily attempted to contact Epstein, but calls were not returned before press time.

His statements drew support from critics of Clinton’s pardons.

“The big question is, will President George W. Bush exercise his authority and not process the illegal pardons, given his mantra of, ‘Let’s move on’?” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based public-interest watchdog group.

“The president should take the advice of Chief Democrat Minority Counsel Julian Epstein and do the right thing,” Fitton added.

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