Fallout from Clinton Pardons for FALN Prompts Reform Measure, Renewed Debate

CNN - February 8, 2000

WASHINGTON - Fallout from President Clinton's controversial pardons of 16 members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group last summer prompted Republicans Tuesday to introduce a measure to reform the pardon process and require input from victims and their families.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Vito Fossella (R-New York) announced the introduction of a measure requiring the Office of Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department to notify victims or their families of key events in the clemency process and allowing them to voice their views. It would also require law enforcement agencies to provide information on the potential impact from a grant of clemency.

President Clinton was widely criticized after he granted clemency to the FALN members over the objections of law enforcement officials, and after the Justice Department consulted representatives of the FALN prisoners, but not the victims.

Hatch and Fossella were flanked by the widow of one victim and the son of a second victim killed in the 1975 FALN bombing of a New York restaurant.

Justice Department officials say the proposed measure is unconstitutional because it would restrict powers granted exclusively to the president.

The sponsors insist the changes would not interfere with the chief executive's decision making.

"The president will still be able to disregard the Pardon Attorney's reports, use another agency, ask anyone in the world for advice, or exercise the 'pardon power' without anyone's counsel, Hatch said.

Hatch said he expects the Justice Department to oppose the measure, but hopes to gain support from Democratic lawmakers.

Fossella rejected the notion the legislation is being introduced to embarrass Hillary Clinton's bid for a Senate seat from New York.

"As far as Mrs. Clinton is concerned, this has nothing to do in my opinion with her candidacy for the Senate. This has everything to do with the privilege and power vested with the president of the United States that will long survive this campaign for the Senate," Fossella said.

Joseph Connor, son of Frank Connor who died in the New York bombing, said he hopes something good finally comes from his father's death.

"We're hoping that we have made a difference here, and I believe we have through this bill. And maybe it can be a part of his legacy," Connor said.

Diana Berger Ettenson whose husband was killed in the blast said she too hoped the measure would gain bipartisan support.

"I would urge people on both sides of the aisle to come together to do the right thing, and I would also urge future candidates for the office of president to think very carefully regarding this awesome power that is placed in their hands. This power of clemency is like no other power," she said.

See Also:
  • The Clemency Page
  • FALN Clemency