Mrs. Clinton Denies a Role in President's Clemency Offer
September 9, 1999 - ADAM NAGOURNEY - The New York Times
BAY SHORE, N.Y. -- Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Wednesday that
she had played no role in any of the
decisions that led to President Clinton's offer of clemency to 16 Puerto
Rican militants, a move that has
created problems for her campaign
for the United States Senate.
The First Lady said she heard of
the conditional offer only after the
President announced it a month ago,
and learned from her campaign
press secretary on Saturday that the
White House on Friday had given the
militants a week to meet Clinton's demands.
Mrs. Clinton made her remarks at
the first full-fledged news conference
she has held since announcing in
June that she was considering a race
for the Senate. She met with reporters in the orchestra room of the high
school here, in a 32-minute session
that was dominated by questions
about Clinton's offer of clemency
to 16 members of the F.A.L.N.
offer has caused a political furor
both for Clinton's White House
and Mrs. Clinton's exploratory campaign for Senate.
As a result of statements by Mrs.
Clinton on the clemency issue, she
has come under attack both by Puerto Rican leaders in New York and
groups that opposed the release of
the prisoners. With the news conference, Mrs. Clinton sought to defuse
an issue that could throw her campaign off stride.
At every turn, Mrs. Clinton said
she stood by her statement of last
Saturday, when she said that the
militants had been given enough
time to meet the conditions set in
Clinton's offer, which required that
they renounce violence. At that time,
she called on the White House to
rescind the offer immediately.
But Mrs. Clinton, who is known as
a quick learner and for her command of policy, said she was not
familiar enough with the details of
the F.A.L.N. case to offer an opinion
on whether her husband should have
offered the clemency in the first
place. The F.A.L.N., the initials for
the Spanish name of the Armed
Forces of National Liberation, is a
terrorist group that advocates independence for Puerto Rico and that
had been linked to 130 bombings,
some fatal, in the 1970's and 80's.
None of the 16 offered clemency
were convicted of crimes that resulted in injuries or deaths.
"I've never been talked to about
that problem," Mrs. Clinton said. "I
didn't know anything about the issue.
And shortly after it became public,
when I found out about it, I guess that
day or the next day, I made it clear
that if the prisoners renounced violence and agreed to the terms of
clemency, I assumed it would go
Similarly, Mrs. Clinton did not suggest that any steps should now be
taken to revoke the commutations
that have been granted to 12 of the
imprisoned F.A.L.N. members who
met Clinton's demands.
Mrs. Clinton said she would not
share with the public the details of
her conversation with her husband
on the matter. "There's one thing
I'm not going to talk about and that's
my private conversations with the
President," Mrs. Clinton said.
But the First Lady then said that
when she sat down with Clinton
at Camp David on Saturday to alert
him that her campaign was putting
out a statement, the President made
no mention of a letter the White
House had sent the night before setting the one-week deadline.
The juxtaposition of events --
Clinton setting a deadline of Friday,
and Mrs. Clinton saying that the
White House should act immediately
-- seemed to undercut Mrs. Clinton's
attempts to deal with the issue. Several of her supporters said that had
she known about the deadline, she
probably would not have intervened.
Mrs. Clinton said the first that she
learned of the White House deadline
was after she had issued her statement, when a reporter called her
press secretary, Howard Wolfson, to
inquire about it, and Wolfson
then called her.
"There are funny ways of finding
things out," Mrs. Clinton said.
if she believed that her husband
knew about the deadline when she
spoke to him that morning, Mrs. Clinton responded with a slip of a smile:
"I think that that's a fair bet. Yeah."
The 16 who were offered clemency
had gained support from several of
New York's Hispanic leaders, and
figures like former President Jimmy
Carter and John Cardinal O'Connor.
The First Lady demurred when
asked if she thought that the 12 clemency offers that had been accepted
should be rescinded.
"I stand by what I said on Saturday," she said. "But if this process
has now moved forward, I'm sure I
share the hopes of everyone that this
agreement will be abided by and the
prisoners when they are released
will be integrated back into society
and will carry out their political aspirations and activities in a peaceful,
The Clintons came under fire almost immediately after the President made the clemency offer.
Republicans asserted that Clinton
had agreed to the clemency to help
Mrs. Clinton among Hispanic voters
in New York.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the
Republican who is likely to oppose
Mrs. Clinton in next year's Senate
race, called on the President to withdraw the offer, as survivors of
F.A.L.N. attacks held news conferences to denounce the decision.
Mrs. Clinton's announcement on
Saturday was intended to ease some
of the political pressure, by taking a
position that, her aides believed,
would make it more difficult for Republicans to attack her on the subject. Instead, she has come under
attack from both sides.
Giuliani, at City Hall, poked
fun at the First Lady for what even
Democrats have come to see as a
clumsy attempt at separating herself from her husband. When a reporter started a question by saying
that Mrs. Clinton stands by her statement on the subject, Giuliani cut
"Stands by her husband?" the
Mayor asked mischievously.
"Oh, this is on the terrorist thing.
O.K., all right, you know I get confused. Sometimes it's stand by him,
sometimes it's stand against him.
It's getting confusing now."
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