The Washington Times
September 6, 1999

Hillary takes heat for mixed signals on FALN release

                                 By Joyce Howard Price
                                 THE WASHINGTON TIMES

                                 Republicans in Congress contended yesterday that first
                                 lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to disavow a
                                 campaign scheme that backfired by opposing her husband's
                                 offer of clemency to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists.
                                      "This was an effort by the president, by the first lady, to
                                 manipulate politics in New York. I think it blew up in their
                                 face," Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said on ABC's
                                 "This Week."
                                      Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and chairman
                                 of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told "Fox
                                 News Sunday": "The president never should have made that
                                 offer in the first place. They took a gamble here and got burned
                                 and decided to back up."
                                      Some prominent Senate Democrats said on TV talk shows
                                 yesterday they agree with the first lady that Mr. Clinton should
                                 withdraw the offer of conditional clemency to 16 members of
                                 the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its
                                 Spanish initials as FALN.
                                      FALN, a pro-independence terrorist organization, has
                                 taken credit for 130 bombings that killed at least six persons
                                 and injured dozens.
                                      "Without any sign of remorse or contrition on the part of
                                 those who committed the crimes, why do it? Without some sign
                                 of that -- and there has been no sign of remorse here -- I
                                 would not have offered them clemency in the first place," Sen.
                                 Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the
                                 Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor, said on CBS'
                                 "Face the Nation."
                                      "I don't know why [the offer] was made in the first place,"
                                 Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and a Judiciary
                                 Committee member, told Fox. Pressed as to whether Mr.
                                 Clinton should retract the offer, Mr. Biden said, "That's my
                                      Mrs. Clinton, who is expected to be a Democratic
                                 candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, released a
                                 statement Saturday in which she disavowed her husband's
                                 commutation offer. "It's been three weeks, and their silence
                                 speaks volumes. I believe the offer of clemency should be
                                 withdrawn," the statement said.
                                      The clemency deal involves 15 prisoners and one former
                                 prisoner convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy and
                                 possession of weapons and explosives.
                                      Last month, at the urging of Democratic Rep. Luis V.
                                 Gutierrez of Illinois and others, Mr. Clinton offered to release
                                 11 of the prisoners, shorten the sentences of three others, and
                                 drop fines against two others, including one already out of
                                 prison. None of the 16 FALN members was directly involved
                                 in killing or injuring anyone in organizational violence.
                                      The deal requires them to renounce terrorism, which
                                 advocates insist they have done. But they have not signed off
                                 on the offer because it requires that they not participate in
                                 political activity advocating Puerto Rican independence and it
                                 restricts whom they can associate with outside prison.
                                      On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New
                                 York Democrat, said he is concerned about reports that
                                 documents or tapes exist that indicate "these people would be
                                 a danger to society, or that they're unwilling to renounce
                                      If there is such evidence, Mr. Schumer said, the prisoners
                                 "should not be released, period." He said he has asked Mr.
                                 Clinton to make those documents public.
                                      The man Mrs. Clinton would replace in Congress, Sen.
                                 Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, opposes the clemency
                                      But despite the criticism, Mr. Clinton has not withdrawn the
                                 offer, White House spokesman Barry Toiv said yesterday.
                                 "The White House has communicated with the attorney of the
                                 16 individuals. The president has given them until [5 p.m.]
                                 Friday, Sept. 10, to advise him whether they will accept the
                                 conditions of the clemency offer."
                                      The White House has said clemency will be denied if the
                                 prisoners do not agree to the conditions by the Friday deadline.
                                      On Fox, Mr. McConnell was asked if he believes Mr.
                                 Clinton made the offer to help his wife woo New York's 1.3
                                 million Puerto Ricans. "I don't think there's any question about
                                 that," he said. "But it didn't help her, and obviously they figured
                                 out they better withdraw this clemency offer, which is
                                 potentially a big problem for her in her Senate race in New
                                      Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the
                                 Judiciary Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press," that he
                                 "personally believes" the clemency offer was "political" and that
                                 it should be withdrawn.
                                      "You've got virtually everyone in law enforcement
                                 recommending that this clemency be withdrawn, because it
                                 sends the wrong message at a time when we're going to face
                                 more and more terrorism in this world," Mr. Hatch said.
                                      The senator and presidential candidate, who is also on the
                                 Select Committee on Intelligence, said: "We have over 1,500
                                 known terrorists and terrorist organizations in this country. We
                                 start treating terrorists with kid gloves, and . . . we're going to
                                 reap the whirlwind. We've got to be tough with terrorism."
                                      Cynics are quick to point out that Mr. Clinton has rarely
                                 granted clemency during his six years in the White House. They
                                 note that he has received 3,042 petitions for clemency since
                                 January 1993 but has granted only three.
                                      On "Meet the Press," Mr. Gutierrez said the 11 prisoners
                                 for whom he is seeking freedom have been in jail an average of
                                 19 years. "It's time for them to sign [the clemency papers] and
                                 get out of jail."
                                      Rep. Vito J. Fossella, New York Republican, who also
                                 appeared on that show, called it "a bizarre situation where the
                                 terrorists in prison are setting the terms and the condition of
                                 their release with the White House."

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