The Washington Post
September 5, 1999
First Lady Opposes Puerto Rican Clemency Offer

                  By Dan Morgan
                  Washington Post Staff Writer
                  Sunday, September 5, 1999; Page A01

                  Hillary Rodham Clinton, distancing herself from a politically controversial
                  action by her husband, said yesterday that she opposes the release from
                  prison or other forms of clemency for 16 members of a Puerto Rican
                  terrorist group that was involved in more than 100 bombings in this country
                  at least 15 years ago.

                  When President Clinton announced a clemency offer on Aug. 11, it had
                  strong support from human rights leaders and was widely seen as boosting
                  Hillary Clinton's standing among New York's Hispanic voters in her
                  expected campaign for the Senate next year. But a backlash quickly
                  developed against the offer from senior law enforcement officials and
                  leading New York politicians.

                  In a statement yesterday explaining her position, Hillary Clinton said the
                  prisoners had not renounced further acts of violence, a key condition of the
                  president's offer. "It's been three weeks and their silence speaks volumes,"
                  she said.

                  The back-and-forth underscored the complex -- and deepening --
                  interconnection between the presidency and Hillary Clinton's unfolding
                  Senate campaign.

                  One well-placed Democratic observer suggested that as Hillary Clinton's
                  campaign gears up, many of the president's actions are likely to be
                  interpreted through the prism of the Senate race, even when the White
                  House is acting for other reasons.

                  At the same time, the issue of clemency for the Puerto Rican terrorists may
                  have served as an early warning of the potential perils of using presidential
                  authority to advance Hillary Clinton's political fortunes.

                  Yesterday, she stressed that she had "no involvement in or prior
                  knowledge of the decision, as is entirely appropriate."

                  The White House has denied that the decision to offer clemency to the 16
                  Puerto Ricans was based on calculations about the benefits to Hillary
                  Clinton. Human rights leaders, such as former President Jimmy Carter and
                  South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with U.S. Hispanic
                  leaders, strongly urged the release of the prisoners, all of whom have been
                  incarcerated for 14 years or longer. Clinton offered to release 11 members
                  of FALN, reduce the amount of time three others must serve and eliminate
                  fines against two others, one of whom already is out of prison.

                  The backlash against the offer is reported to have caught the White House
                  by surprise and forced a reassessment.

                  On Friday, White House lawyers advised attorneys for the prisoners that if
                  they did not respond in writing to the president's offer by 5 p.m. next
                  Friday, "we would consider that a rejection of the offer and they would
                  continue serving their sentences," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy
                  said yesterday.

                  "We have always believed that renunciation of violence was a critical
                  condition of this clemency offer," he said. Kennedy said that Hillary Clinton
                  was not informed about the letter.

                  Yesterday morning, according to Hillary Clinton's spokesman, she
                  informed the president that she had decided to issue a statement calling for
                  the withdrawal of the offer.

                  It was unclear yesterday what the impact would be in New York's large
                  Hispanic and Puerto Rican communities. Hispanic leaders in Congress
                  could not be reached for comment.

                  New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Hillary Clinton's likely
                  Republican opponent in next year's race for the Senate seat being vacated
                  by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has called the president's clemency
                  offer "a mistake," and there has also been opposition from high-ranking
                  congressional Republicans. A Giuliani spokesman said yesterday the
                  mayor would have no comment on Hillary Clinton's statement.

                  Moynihan himself, the state's senior Democrat, has also indicated that he
                  opposes the offer, which received massive news coverage across the state.
                  Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), has reserved judgment pending further
                  study of an internal Justice Department report laying out the options on the
                  matter for the president.

                  "Mrs. Clinton is a person in her own right and I assume after reviewing
                  material she made a decision," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.).
                  Lowey said she was still gathering information on which to form her own

                  In reaching its recommendations for President Clinton, the White House
                  counsel's office noted that most of the prisoners have already served at
                  least 19 years, and one has served nearly 25 years. The bombings, by the
                  pro-independence Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN by its
                  Spanish initials, took place between 1974 and 1983. They killed at least
                  six persons and injured scores more. But none of those whose sentences
                  the president proposes to commute were directly involved in the deaths
                  and injuries, officials said.

                  On Friday, attorneys for 15 of the jailed Puerto Rican nationalists said the
                  clemency offer is unfair because it would impose too many restrictions on
                  the FALN members once they are freed from prison. "It's conditioned
                  upon them complying with terms that would limit their ability to integrate
                  themselves into the political process to shape the future of their country,
                  because it restricts their travel and association," one of the attorneys, Jan
                  Susler, told the Associated Press Television News (APTN).

                  Susler and lawyer Michael Deutsch said the FALN members all have
                  renounced violence -- a condition of the clemency offer -- but had
                  problems with other parts of the deal.

                  Deutsch said Friday that if FALN members accepted the offer they would
                  be barred from participating in political movements advocating
                  independence for Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States.
                  Their travel also would be severely restricted, he said.

                  Carter previously pardoned several Puerto Rican nationalists who were
                  convicted of storming the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 and
                  wounding five members.

                  Several observers said yesterday that the attention given to Hillary
                  Clinton's statement yesterday is part of her transition from supportive first
                  lady to candidate in her own right. As the months pass, some suggested, it
                  will be commonplace for her to be taking stands that are at odds from
                  those of the president -- such as her demands for increased Medicare
                  funding of New York's teaching hospitals.

                  But at this point, the sources suggested, the transition is still awkward for
                  both the White House and the first lady.

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