From Terry Frieden at the Justice Department
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday
prevented the FBI from testifying at a Senate hearing on President Clinton's
decision to grant clemency to members of the Puerto Rican
independence group FALN.
In what appeared to represent continued tension between the Justice
Department and the FBI, a senior Justice official sent a letter to Foreign
Relations subcommittee chairman Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia) late
Monday saying, "We cannot authorize their appearance at tomorrow's
The letter was signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jon Jennings,
who heads the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs.
"In light of ... the fact that the hearing may, in significant part, address
exercise of an exclusive presidential prerogative, we are carefully reviewing
this matter and consulting with the White House regarding how most
appropriately to proceed," the letter said.
An FBI official told CNN Monday that Assistant Director Neil Gallagher
intended to testify before congressional panels about the FALN issue on
Tuesday and Thursday of this week and would express the FBI's opposition
to the president's clemency offer.
An FBI official told CNN on Tuesday, "They pulled the plug on us,"
referring to the Justice decision to prevent the FBI testimony.
The hearing was attended only by Coverdell and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona)
and featured emotional testimony from victims of FALN violence.
Former New York City Police Department detectives Rich Pastorella and
Anthony Senft, who were seriously injured by FALN bombs, were harshly
critical of Clinton's decision to grant clemency.
"President Clinton has sent terrorists a message that the law enforcement
community is expendable, and terrorists will not be pursued to the ends of
the earth," Pastorella told the committee.
"Clinton's actions tell would-be terrorists around the world that terrorism
against the United States and its people is an acceptable form of
demonstrating their political ideology," said Senft.
In 1975, Joseph Connor was celebrating his 9th birthday at a New York
restaurant when an FALN bomb exploded, killing his father Frank. Connor
expressed bitterness at the decision.
Connor was upset that Ricardo Jimenez, an FALN representative who was
granted clemency, appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday and failed to
apologize for the bomb that killed his father.
Connor released a copy of a Justice Department letter he received in 1996,
which referred to FALN members as terrorists. In light of the Justice
Department's position, Connor said he was unable to understand the
decision to grant clemency.
Strained relations with law enforcement community
The victims and their families were joined by the national president of
Fraternal Order of Police, whose condemnation of FALN clemency may
represent a serious blow to the Clinton administration's efforts to maintain
strong support from police organizations.
The FOP's Gilbert Gallegos said his organization had strongly supported
Clinton on several law enforcement initiatives, including the program to put
100,000 more police on the nation's streets, but now had to condemn
Clinton's clemency decision.
"We've stood shoulder to shoulder with the president, but with this action,
the good that has been done has been wiped away," Gallegos said.
The FOP is the nation's largest organization of law enforcement
professionals, representing more than 283,000 rank and file law officers
"We should make no mistake. The president has used his constitutional
power to release convicted terrorists, despite the opposition of federal law
enforcement officials, despite objections from the law enforcement
community and despite the pleas of the victims and families of the dead --
killed in their wave of bomb attacks," Gallegos said.
The administration opposed sending any representatives to testify in support
of the president's decision.
After the hearing, Coverdell complained to reporters that the Clinton
administration has refused his committee's efforts to obtain documents
relating to the FALN clemency decision- making process.