White House Pushed Department On Clemency

Reuters Report - October 21, 1999

NEW YORK - The Justice Department took extraordinary steps to enhance the chances of clemency for imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalists after receiving regular expressions of interest from the White House, the New York Times said Thursday.

Top department officials repeatedly urged the prisoners' supporters in Congress to persuade the nationalists to write a statement of repentance to help their chances of being released, the Times said, citing documents released at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday.

The documents show that the Puerto Rican nationalists did not apply for clemency personally, as usually required, but Justice Department officials processed a request anyway, the Times said.

The fact that the prisoners failed to apply for clemency themselves suggests that they had not abandoned their position of rejecting the authority of the U.S. government, the Times said.

President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists on Aug. 11. The prisoners were convicted of crimes committed more than 20 years ago on behalf of the FALN, a militant Puerto Rican independence organization.

Some critics of Clinton said they believed the clemency offer might have been made to support the first lady's bid for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, which has a large community of Puerto Rican descent.

Hillary Rodham Clinton first supported the clemency offer, then said she believed it should be withdrawn because the imprisoned activists had not quickly embraced the offer, which required them to renounce violence.

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