Clinton Says Clemency Plan Was Unrelated to First Lady
September 10, 1999 - Katharine Q. Seelye - The New York Times
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton said on Thursday that his
wife's probable Senate campaign in
New York played "absolutely" no
role in his decision to offer clemency
to 16 Puerto Rican militants. And he
said that Hillary Rodham Clinton,
whose exploratory candidacy has
been engulfed in controversy over
the clemency, had known nothing
about the offer.
Breaking his silence on the matter
since his office issued a statement a
month ago outlining the clemency
plan, the President told reporters
here that he had made the offer
because the militants were given excessive sentences based on their
"guilt by association" with a terrorist organization that killed six people
and wounded scores of others during
the 1970's and 80's. He said that those
to whom he made the conditional
offer had not been convicted of doing
bodily harm to anyone.
Of the clemency offer, the President said that Mrs. Clinton "didn't
know anything about it." He added:
"I have not discussed other clemency issues with her, and I didn't think I
should discuss this one." He has received 3,042 clemency requests since
he took office in 1993 and has granted
He portrayed his action as almost
routine. "I got the memo from
Ruff," the President said of his former counsel, Charles F. C. Ruff. "I
didn't know it was coming. It came
with all the other papers I get every
day and every week, and I dealt with
it the way I deal with everything."
Nonetheless, the House on Thursday
passed a resolution with overwhelming Democratic support that condemned the President's offer. The
debate featured a chorus of voices
that asserted Clinton was trying
to help his wife curry favor with New
York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans.
The vote was 311 to 41, with 93 Democrats voting against Clinton.
The Senate is to vote on a similar
resolution on Monday.
The resolutions are merely symbolic, because clemency is the sole
prerogative of the President. But
they help Congressional Republicans
keep alive a matter that they perceive as a political blunder by the
President and a public relations disaster for the First Lady, who tried to
distance herself from it by calling on
her husband Saturday to withdraw it.
Two Senate committees have scheduled hearings on the issue next week
and a House committee has issued a
subpoena for records of the decision-making process.
His responses today, at an impromptu news conference on the
lawn outside the Oval Office before
his departure on a 10-day trip to New
Zealand, did little to illuminate the
clemency offer and the many questions it has raised about how much
he may use national policy to influence his wife's political standing in
The President's decision dogged
Mrs. Clinton again today as she visited New York neighborhoods, with
reporters asking what she knew
about the offer and about the feathers she ruffled among Puerto Ricans
by asking the President to rescind it.
"There will be times when I disagree with my friends and my husband and his Administration," she
said outside a school in Queens. "But
the President has been so good for
our country and so good for New
York, and I support the vast number
of good programs and progress that
he and his Administration have stood
She added, "I think you'd be hard
pressed to find two active people who
agree 100 percent of the time."
When she was asked if she was
dissatisfied, now that 14 of the prisoners have accepted the clemency
offer, she said: "I'm going to stand
by my statement on Saturday. I said
then that the President's clemency
offer should have been revoked. I
believe that. But you know, you don't
get everything that you advocate or
believe or hope for in life, and I've
stated my position and I think that's
where I'll let it stand."
Mrs. Clinton will have a chance to
try to pave over the damage next
week, when she is scheduled to appear before the Hispanic Caucus Institute at its annual Washington gala.
Mrs. Clinton told reporters in New
York on Wednesday that when she
told the President on Saturday that
she was going to ask him to withdraw
the offer, he did not tell her that he
was setting a deadline of Sept. 10 for
the prisoners to accept. Had she
known this, her political supporters
suggest, she might not have inserted
herself into the matter at all.
The President confirmed on Thursday
that he did not tell his wife of the
deadline, but he did not explain why.
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