G.O.P. Wants Clinton to Explain Clemency for Puerto Rican Nationalists
September 2, 1999 - The New York Times - James Dao
WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans stepped up pressure on
the administration Wednesday to explain President Clinton's offer
of clemency to 16 members of a violent Puerto Rican nationalist
group, subpoenaing White House and Justice Department records and
raising the likelihood of congressional hearings in the fall.
Last month, Clinton offered to reduce the sentences of 16
members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, commonly known
by its Spanish initials, FALN, on the condition they renounce
violence. The group was involved in more than 100 bombings in the
United States during the 1970s and 1980s.
The 16 FALN members were not linked to crimes involving deaths
or injuries, and the White House said Clinton considered their
sentences, in some cases more than 50 years in prison, to be out of
proportion to their crimes.
Wednesday, the House Committee on Government Reform issued
subpoenas to the White House and the Justice Department seeking all
records relating to the president's decision. The committee is also
considering holding hearings on the clemency offer when Congress
returns after Labor Day.
"We are going to do what we hope is a short investigation to
find out why the president would be interested in pardoning 16
terrorists," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the committee
chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "It should come as no shock that
people on both sides of the aisles are against this."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno Wednesday
requesting Justice Department records from the case. In his letter,
Hatch said he was particularly concerned about a report in The New
York Times that a wide range of federal law-enforcement agencies
were opposed to commuting the sentences of the 16.
Spokesmen for the White House and Justice Department would not
comment on the subpoenas. But a senior Justice Department official
said the department was likely to resist complying with the
subpoenas on the ground that pardons are the exclusive power of the
president, over which Congress has no say.
The two committees' demands for records were part of a broader
wave of criticism and second-guessing about Clinton's clemency
offer coming from both parties on Capitol Hill this week.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., said through an aide
Wednesday that he opposed the clemency offer, but declined to
elaborate. And the state's junior Democratic senator, Charles
Schumer, usually a strong defender of the Clinton administration,
said he wanted to see the internal Justice Department report on the
clemency proposal before he took a position on it.
At the request of Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., the House
Judiciary Committee is also considering holding hearings on the
clemency offer this fall.
"The question for us, given the level of resistance from
federal agencies to the clemency offer, is, why now?" said Sam
Stratman, a spokesman for Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the committee's
chairman. "The White House has been very reserved in defending
itself on this decision, and it might be helpful to them and to us
for there to be a better explanation."
Many Republicans believe that Clinton made the clemency offer to
help his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, win support from New York's
large Puerto Rican community in her expected run for the Senate
from New York. Burton's subpoenas include a request to Mrs. Clinton
and her office for any records relating to the offer.
Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton's campaign, said
the first lady supports clemency provided the 16 renounce violence.
But he said she had "no involvement whatsoever" in the decision.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York, Mrs. Clinton's likely
Republican opponent in the Senate race, has criticized Clinton's
offer to reduce the sentences.
Under Clinton's proposal, 11 of the 16 FALN members would be
eligible for immediate release from prison, two would have to serve
more time before being eligible for release, and three others who
have already been released from prison would have fines reduced.
The 16 are still reviewing the offer.
In the wake of Clinton's clemency proposal to the FALN members,
supporters of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American who spied for
Israel, have increased their lobbying efforts to get the
administration to commute his life sentence.
On Sunday, a coalition of New York Jewish groups demonstrated
outside Mrs. Clinton's Manhattan campaign headquarters, asking her
to support Pollard's release. "She can't lose on this, politically
or substantively," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat
from Brooklyn. "Her input could be decisive."
Wolfson said, "She understands the importance of this case, and
has no further comment."
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