White House refuses to cooperate with inquiry on clemency offer

September 13, 1999

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing the president's right to the "confidential advice" of his senior staff, the White House is refusing to cooperate with a Senate inquiry into President Bill Clinton's decision to grant clemency to 16 convicted Puerto Rican nationalists.

"The Constitution of the United States vests exclusive power to grant clemency in the president," wrote Cheryl Mills, deputy counsel to the president, in a letter to Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia).

Coverdell, who is chairing hearings on the issue, had asked for the testimony of Beth Nolan, the White House counsel; Maria Echaveste, deputy chief of staff; and Jeffrey Farrow, co-chairman of the Interagency Group on Puerto Rico.

"The senior staff of the White House serves the president by providing confidential advice on a wide range of policy issues," Mills wrote. "Both Congress and this administration have adhered to the long-established precedent that, consistent with principles of separation of powers, the president's senior advisers traditionally do not testify before Congress on such issues."

Last month Clinton made the clemency offer to 16 convicted Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) members. Eleven who accepted Clinton's clemency offer and agreed to renounce violence were released from prison Friday.

Two rejected the deal and two others -- who already are out of prison -- accepted the deal on Friday, just hours before a White House deadline. By agreeing to Clinton's offer, their fines were reduced.

Another prisoner who accepted clemency still must serve five more years at a federal prison in Florida before he is eligible for release.

Many critics accused Clinton of taking the action to help his wife gain support among New York's Puerto Rican and larger Hispanic community for her possible Senate bid

  • Return to Senate Race page