USA Today
September 21, 1999

Clinton defends clemency decision

                   WASHINGTON - President Clinton Tuesday denied that political
                   considerations played a role in his decision to grant clemency to 14 Puerto
                   Rican nationalists.

                   He also defended invoking executive privilege in refusing to provide a
                   House inquiry with documents related to the decision and said the
                   ''extremely lengthy sentences'' the prisoners were serving was a major
                   factor in his decision.

                   The president spelled out his position in a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman,
                   D-Calif., as a House committee opened a hearing into the clemency

                   Critics have suggested the clemency was aimed at boosting first lady
                   Hillary Rodham Clinton's popularity among the 1.3 million Puerto Ricans
                   who live in New York, where she is contemplating a bid for the Senate in

                   But Clinton said the timing of the announcement was dictated by the
                   promise of his former chief counsel, Charles F.C. Ruff, to finish the review
                   of the clemency case before leaving the government.

                   ''His recommendation and my decision were based on our view of the
                   merits of the requests,'' Clinton wrote Waxman. ''Political considerations
                   played no role in the process.''

                   Republicans, who control the House Government Reform Committee, are
                   displaying a grainy videotape that purports to show one of the militants
                   allegedly making a bomb. Republicans are trying to disprove Clinton's
                   contention that none of those to whom he offered clemency had been
                   involved in a violent crime.

                   ''Here they are making bombs. I'd say that's pretty violent,'' said Mark
                   Corallo, a spokesman for the House panel.

                   But Julio Cortes, brother of freed prisoner Edwin Cortes, told The
                   Associated Press today that the tape was ''old news.''

                   ''My opinion is that this is all party politics,'' Julio Cortes said. ''They've got
                   something that they think they can play up against Clinton and the
                   Democrats, election time's coming up, and they want to get as much
                   mileage as they can politically out of this.''

                   According to Corallo, the videotape turned over to the committee by the
                   FBI shows Cortes and Alejandrina Torres and Edwin Cortes, who both
                   served some 16 years of their original 35-year sentences.

                   In his letter to Waxman, Clinton noted that he required the prisoners to
                   renounce violence as a condition of clemency

                   ''Many of those who supported unconditional clemency for the prisoners
                   argued that they were political prisoners who acted out of sincere political
                   beliefs. I rejected this argument,'' Clinton wrote. ''No form of violence is
                   ever justified as a means of political expression in a democratic society
                   based on the rule of law.

                   ''Our society believes, however, that a punishment should fit the crime,'' he

                   Clinton has explained that he agreed to commute the sentences because
                   most of the jailed Puerto Ricans had spent nearly 20 years in prison, yet
                   had not been charged with acts of violence that left anyone dead or

                   Among the documents that were turned over to the House panel were
                   pre-sentencing reports on the separatists from the Bureau of Prisons.

                   Corallo called the contents of those reports ''very troubling.''

                   Most of those offered clemency were associated with the FALN - the
                   Spanish initials for the Armed Forces of National Liberation - responsible
                   for a wave of bombings of U.S. civilian and military targets in the late
                   1970s and early 1980s that left six dead and more injured.

                   Those granted clemency were convicted of seditious conspiracy and
                   possession of weapons and explosives. Among those petitioning for their
                   release was former President Carter and South African Bishop Desmond

                   Clinton's offer to the 16 militants required that they renounce violence and
                   meet other parole conditions limiting their travel and contact.

                   Fourteen accepted the offer and 11 of them were recently released from
                   prison. One has to serve five more years before being released and two
                   were already out of jail and had their fines eliminated.