Clinton: No politics involved
Says he didn't discuss clemency offer with wife
From Herald Staff and Wire Reports
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton said Thursday he did not talk
with his wife
about his clemency offer to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists, while Hillary Rodham
Clinton said she hopes opposing that clemency won't sully her possible Senate
Republicans and some law enforcement officials have accused Clinton
the clemency offer to curry favor for Mrs. Clinton among New York's 1.3 million
Puerto Ricans. Two more nationalists accepted clemency Thursday -- bringing
the total to 14 -- even as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly
condemned the offer.
An administration official speaking on background said 11 of of
imprisoned should be free by the close of business today. A 12th prisoner
accepted a deal that will free him in five years. The two who accepted clemency
Thursday have already completed their sentences and will have fines reduced.
Two militants have rejected the President's clemency conditions,
renouncing violence and limiting involvement in the independence movement.
Speaking to reporters on the lawn just outside the Oval Office,
the President said
the political ramifications for the First Lady played ``absolutely'' no role in his
decision to free the nationalists.
Clinton said he was swayed by his lawyer's recommendation, the
sentences already served by the members, and the lobbying efforts of former
President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.
He said Mrs. Clinton wasn't aware of his offer until one of her
aides asked her to
comment on it.
``I did not discuss it with her,'' Clinton said. ``I have not
discussed other clemency
issues with her, and I didn't think I should discuss this one. It was up to her, and
entirely appropriate for her, to say whatever she wanted to about it.''
Clinton said he doesn't believe his wife has flip-flopped on this
issue, and it is up
to New York voters to ``evaluate that as they please.''
For her part, Mrs. Clinton -- who was in New York City -- reiterated
and said she understood ``the really strong feelings that my friends in the Puerto
Rican community have on this issue.'' She appealed to them to understand her
decision as well.
But Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., a native of Puerto Rico, said Mrs.
has a serious credibility problem, and he is not interested in endorsing her.
``I'm still upset. I'm still hurt. I'm still angry and I've heard
nothing to change my
mind,'' Serrano said. ``If that campaign can be so insensitive to something that
means so much to Puerto Ricans, how sensitive can they be to issues that affect
blacks in my community, that affect Dominicans in my community, that affect
Mexicans moving into my community?''
Most of those eligible for clemency were members of the ultranationalist
responsible for some 130 bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s that left six
dead and scores wounded. None of those offered clemency were directly
responsible for deaths or injuries, officials say.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives condemned the clemency
offer on a
311-41 vote that was little more than a symbolic gesture, since Clinton holds
exclusive power over clemency. But in a rebuke, 93 Democrats crossed party
lines to side with Republicans pushing the resolution. And 71 Democrats and one
independent abstained by voting ``present.''
Eighteen members of the Florida delegation supported the resolution,
opposed by Democrats Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek. Three Florida
Democrats -- Corrine Brown, Peter Deutsch and Robert Wexler -- voted ``present.''
In San Juan Thursday, independence activist Luis Nieves Falcon
Romero Barcelo, the nonvoting Puerto Rican representative to Congress, for not
fending off the anti-clemency vote. He called him a ``hypocrite'' and ``two-faced.''
``Today we confirmed once more that Barcelo is capable of -- like
they used to
say in my old neighborhood -- selling his soul to the devil,'' said Nieves, a
spokesman for the prisoners.
Herald staff writers Carol Rosenberg and Frances Robles, in San
contributed to this report.