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
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withdrawn," the statement said.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."
Copyright © 1999 News World Communications, Inc.