John McCain believes that there should be no real accountability for Bush-era lawbreakers, based on the Watergate precedent: “Most people in retrospect believe that Ford’s pardon was right, because we moved on. We have got to move on.”
I would say that adherence to this precedent still implies that Jay Bybee should be forced from office even if there’s no further punishment for him.
But a broader question here is whether it isn’t time to reconsider the idea that the “system worked” during the Watergate process. I think a good case can be made that starting with Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, moving forward into George H.W. Bush’s use of the pardon power to kill off the Iran-Contra investigation, and now shifting toward the present day when it’s apparently become a fringe left position that the laws of the United States of America should be enforced that we’ve moved through a dangerous cycle of impunity. It seems to me that, in effect, Nixon’s dictum that “if the president does it, it’s not a crime” has been entrenched into American customary law. Officially, he was repudiated. But in reality I think you’d have to say that the Nixon Doctrine—that claims of national security allow the President to order whatever he wants, irrespective of statutes or treaties—has become the de facto law of the land.
And it was Ford who got the ball rolling.