The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 21, 1999

Clinton: No Politics in Clemency

                  By Shannon Mccaffrey
                  Associated Press Writer

                  In a letter to a Democratic lawmaker, President Clinton today 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 returning to the private sector.

                  ``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.

                  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

                  Republicans and some law enforcement officials have accused the
                  president of making the clemency offer to boost his wife's Senate race
                  standing among New York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans. The White House
                  denies that, and Hillary Rodham Clinton has since come out against the

                  Government witnesses from the Justice Department, the FBI and the
                  Bureau of Prisons were also expected to testify today for the first time.
                  But their testimony was to be strictly limited by the White House's
                  decision last week to exert executive privilege and refuse to turn over to
                  Congress documents related to the offer of clemency.

                  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.