Clinton Hints at Freeing Pollard

Awaiting Advice of Justice Department

The Jerusalem Post - November 14, 1993

WASHINGTON - President Clinton left open the possibility Friday of freeing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard even if the Justice Department recommends against commuting Pollard's life sentence for passing secrets to Israel.

Clinton made clear in comments to reporters following a meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the decision on a pardon was his alone, though under US government procedures he must await the Justice Department's advice.

Pollard, a former civilian Navy intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage. He admitted passing thousands of pages of highly sensitive documents after being recruited by Israel as a spy in 1984.

Rabin had asked the president to commute the life sentence and raised the issue during their meeting, Clinton said.

"I explained that under our procedure here, I cannot make a decision on the Pollard case until the Justice Department makes a recommendation to me," Clinton said when the two leaders met reporters after their meeting.

"Under the US Constitution, I do not have to follow the recommendation of the Justice Department, but under our procedure I have to get one. When I get one, which won't be too long in the future, I will then review it and make a decision," Clinton said.

Pollard, 39, has served eight years in prison and is eligible in 1996 to be considered for parole.

The US attorney's office here, which prosecuted Pollard, has already recommended against granting executive clemency, according to a federal law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Veteran law enforcement officials, also speaking anonymously, predict that the Justice Department is unlikely to recommend that Pollard's sentence be commuted.

But some of Pollard's supporters, including his attorney Theodore B. Olson, said they were encouraged by the president's statement Friday.

"I am encouraged he is acknowledging that he can render whatever decision he wants irrespective of what recommendation he may get from the Department of Justice," Olson said.

Others also said they found Clinton's statement to be encouraging.

"I find that statement to be positive because it means that Clinton will make up his own mind and I have faith in Clinton's judgment," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

Rep. Charles E. Schumer, who has met with Attorney General Janet Reno to press the case for releasing Pollard, said in a statement that "the president's words contribute to the rising sense of hope among us who feel the sentence is disproportionately harsh when compared to others who have been sentenced for similar acts."

But prosecutors have long argued that those cases are different because far less and far less sensitive information was transmitted to these countries.

Pollard gave the Israelis' information that might well have been passed to the Soviet bloc or other countries that put US intelligence agents at grave risk, prosecutors argued.

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