Clinton invokes executive privilege on FALN clemency
By Andrew Cain
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Clinton on Thursday claimed executive privilege
and refused a congressional subpoena seeking details of
his clemency offer to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists.
"Pursuant to the Constitution and the separation-of-powers
doctrine, the president's authority to grant clemency is not
subject to legislative oversight," White House Deputy Counsel
Cheryl Mills wrote to Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican
and chairman of the House Committee on Government
It was the sixth investigation in which Mr. Clinton invoked
executive privilege. The last was in the Monica Lewinsky
His decision angered Republicans on Capitol Hill, who want
to know why Mr. Clinton offered clemency despite the
objections of law enforcement agencies.
Many suspect Mr. Clinton timed the offer to aid first lady
Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely Senate run in New York, which
is home to 1.3 million people of Puerto Rican descent.
"The president has a moral obligation to the American
people to explain why he let terrorists out of prison," Mr.
"By claiming executive privilege he is, in essence, telling the
American people that it's none of their business. But it is their
business, and it is the business of law enforcement agencies
across the country."
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Mr. Burton's committee issued a subpoena this week
seeking testimony from White House Counsel Beth Nolan.
Attorney General Janet Reno wrote to Mr. Clinton yesterday
that the counsel could not be compelled to testify.
Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House Counsel's
Office, said Mr. Clinton would provide more than 11,000
pages of documents -- such as letters from clemency
proponents -- that "do not directly involve the president's
internal, deliberative process."
But Mr. Clinton will not provide "advice-giving" materials,
such as the August memorandum in which then-White House
Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff recommended clemency to the
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican,
said Mr. Clinton made a "totally fallacious" claim of executive
"There's no national security involved here," Mr. Lott said.
"He made a mistake, and we have a right to know how he
violated their own rules on granting clemency. It's a very
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, has vowed to subpoena Justice
Department memos on Mr. Clinton's action to grant clemency
to the terrorists.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mr.
Clinton should release the documents.
"People have a right to know what various law enforcement
agencies did. I generally believe in sunshine."
Miss Mills wrote that "executive privilege serves the vital
public interest in assuring that the president receives candid
advice from his advisers."
In 1998, a federal judge ruled Mr. Clinton could not utilize
executive privilege to protect his conversations about Miss
Lewinsky with aides Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal.
Mr. Clinton offered clemency last month to the 16
terrorists, most of whom are members of the Armed Forces of
National Liberation, a pro-independence terrorist organization
known by its Spanish acronym, FALN. The group has claimed
responsibility for 130 bombings that killed at least six persons
and injured dozens.
The 16 were convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy,
and possession of weapons and explosives. White House
officials said none of the 16 to whom clemency was offered
killed or injured anyone.
Fourteen of the 16 have accepted Mr. Clinton's clemency
offer but only 11 have been released from prison.
Mrs. Clinton initially said she would support clemency if the
prisoners renounced violence. Mrs. Clinton later urged the
president to withdraw the offer.
Rep. Vito J. Fossella, New York Republican, said, "It
boggles my mind why our president wouldn't want to explain to
the American people and especially the victims who have
suffered why 11 terrorists have been set free."
The terrorists have offered "no remorse, no apologies, no
contrition for acts of violence they engaged in."
The president said last week that hundreds of people,
including former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop
Desmond Tutu of South Africa, had urged him to grant
clemency to the 16 terrorists.
"None of them, even though they belonged to an
organization which had espoused violent means, none of them
were convicted of doing any bodily harm to anyone," Mr.
The president said the terrorists "had served very long
sentences for offenses that did not involve bodily harm to other
Mr. Clinton said the FALN members who accept clemency
will go back to prison if they violate the conditions of their
parole -- for example, by associating with people who espouse
"So under those circumstances, I felt then and I still feel that
that was the just decision."
The House last Friday approved a non-binding resolution,
311-41, saying Mr. Clinton should not pardon the criminals
and that he is encouraging terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. All 41
votes against were Democrats.
Miss Reno, during her weekly press briefing, said the White
House had told her the president intended to invoke executive
privilege in the matter. She was not yet certain how it would
affect the Justice Department's ability to provide witnesses and
documents the House and Senate requested.
Dave Boyer and Jerry Seper contributed to this report.