FBI Warned Prez of New FALN Terror
By BRIAN BLOMQUIST
WASHINGTON - FBI Director Louis Freeh warned President Clinton the Puerto
militants he was freeing "would likely" return to their violent ways, new papers reveal.
Freeh warned that clemency "would likely return committed, experienced,
hardened terrorists to the clandestine movement" known as the Armed Forces for National
Liberation (FALN in Spanish), a group responsible for 130 bombings and six deaths.
Freeh's strongly worded advice, which came out yesterday at a congressional
hearing on the FALN
uproar, shows that Clinton knew that future violence was a risk when he freed the Puerto
"Few of the current prisoners have expressed remorse for their crimes or
for their victims;
rather, most remained committed to violence as a means to achieve Puerto Rican independence,"
Freeh advised the Justice Department, which sent along his advice to the White House.
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy responded that "these cases are inevitably
difficult and often
controversial - and on any given clemency case there is likely to be some in law enforcement who
just say no. That's understandable and we respect that."
Freeh revealed his advice on the FALN controversy in a letter to House
Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).
That letter was unsigned, undated and never sent to Hyde because Attorney
General Janet Reno
ordered that it stay secret, FBI spokesman Dave Miller said last night.
But Miller confirmed the letter's authenticity and said Freeh wrote it
within the past few weeks, as
Clinton was weighing whether to invoke executive privilege to conceal papers and gag aides on why
he granted clemency. Clinton claimed executive privilege last week.
Freeh's letter was handed out by Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on
Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing on the FALN controversy. Waxman also
handed out a letter from Clinton offering his first detailed defense of his clemency offer.
In a five-page letter to Waxman, Clinton wrote that "political considerations
played no role in the
process" - an effort to douse speculation that he originally agreed to the clemency offer to help
Hillary Rodham Clinton pick up the Hispanic vote in her presumed New York Senate campaign.
Clinton pinned some of the blame on his counsel, Charles Ruff, who recently
left his White House
job to go back to a private law practice. Ruff played a major role in getting Clinton acquitted in
his Senate impeachment trial.
"The timing of my decision was dictated by the fact that [Ruff] ... committed
to many of those
interested in this issue that he would consult with the Department of Justice and make a
recommendation in early August," Clinton wrote to Waxman.
Clinton said he freed the convicted terrorists because they would have
received a more lenient
sentence under the sentencing guidelines that started after they were jailed - but Clinton said he
"rejected" the claim that they were "political prisoners."
Also at yesterday's hearing, a top Bureau of Prisons official said the
White House never asked
the bureau for its advice on whether to grant clemency to the 16 terrorists.
Michael Cooksey, the bureau's assistant director of corrections, said some
of the terrorists had an
"extreme propensity to violence or escape."
Neil Gallagher, the FBI's assistant director of national security, said,
"I think they are criminals.
They are terrorists, and they represent a threat to the United States."