September 10, 1999

FALN prisoners set free

                  In all, 11 to be released today
                  (CNN) -- The 11 Puerto Rican nationalists who accepted President
                  Clinton's clemency offer and agreed to renounce violence were released
                  from prison on Friday.

                  Alejandrina Torres was released from the federal prison at Danbury,
                  Connecticut. Family members said she was accompanied by her two
                  daughters. "I am ecstatic. I am so happy," said another daughter, Norma
                  Torres, about her mother's release.

                  Edwin Cortes left the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. "It
                  was tough sometimes. It was tough for me. It was tough for him. It was tough
                  for my kids. But we made it," Cortes' wife, Alva, said as she waited outside for him.

                  Ricardo Jimenez rode out of an Indiana prison, near Terre Haute, in a
                  gold Mercedes, accompanied by his sister and others. "I'm elated that
                  I'm free, here with my family," he told reporters.

                  Clinton made the clemency offer last week to a total of 16 convicted Armed
                  Forces of National Liberation (FALN) members. Two rejected it and two
                  others -- who are already out of prison -- accepted the deal on Friday, just
                  hours before a White House deadline. By agreeing to Clinton's offer, their
                  fines are reduced.

                  Another prisoner who accepted clemency still must serve five more years at
                  a federal prison in Florida before he is eligible for release.

                  'Deplorable concession to terrorists'

                  Granting clemency is a presidential prerogative that cannot be overruled by
                  Congress, but lawmakers formally criticized Clinton on Thursday for being
                  soft on terrorism.

                  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 311-41 against
                  Clinton's clemency offer. The group opposing the president included 93

                  The Senate will vote on a similar resolution Monday. A draft text condemns
                  the president for a "deplorable concession to terrorists" that has "undermined
                  national security."

                  "There is a feeling of outrage in this country against this action," said Senate
                  Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

                  Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said lawmakers had an obligation to vote for
                  the resolution condemning Clinton's action.

                  "... When he elevates terrorists over other people who may well deserve
                  pardons much more, or having their sentence cut much more, he has abused
                  his power and abused his office," Sessions said.

                  "And it is a duty, the responsibility of this Congress to do the only thing we
                  can. And that is to adopt a resolution that speaks clearly that we don't
                  accept it," he said.

                  Anti-Clinton motivations alleged

                  Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, called the House resolution a "travesty"
                  and said it interferes in the criminal justice system.

                  "Why is this being rushed through? To embarrass the president and the first
                  lady, who is considering running for the Senate in New York," Nadler said.

                  The White House faces a continued political uproar next week when two
                  Senate committees and one in the House plan to hold hearings on the
                  clemency offer.

                  Leading Democrats, such as presidential candidate Bill Bradley, opposed
                  the clemency offer -- as did Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose New
                  York Senate seat Hillary Rodham Clinton hopes to win.

                  Many critics accused Clinton of taking the action to help his wife gain support
                  among New York's Puerto Rican and larger Hispanic community.

                  The controversy then took an even more dramatic turn over last weekend when
                  the first lady said the offer should be rescinded -- comments that drew
                  criticism of her from leading New York Hispanic politicians.

                  President says he did not discuss clemency with wife

                  Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Thursday afternoon, the president
                  stood by his decision to free the prisoners -- and defended his wife, even though her
                  opinion differs.

                  "It was up to her and entirely appropriate for her to say whatever she
                  wanted to about it. But I did what I thought was right," the president said.

                  He also said he didn't discuss the matter with the first lady. "I haven't
                  discussed other clemency issues with her and I didn't think I should discuss
                  this one," Clinton said.

                  Some law enforcement officials and Republicans say Clinton made the
                  clemency offer to curry favor for Mrs. Clinton among New York's 1.3
                  million Puerto Ricans.

                  But the president said politics played no role in his clemency offer to the
                  militant activists.

                  "None of them were convicted of doing bodily harm to anyone. And they
                  had all served sentences that were considerably longer than they would
                  serve under the sentencing guidelines which control federal sentencing now,"
                  he said.

                  "I did not believe they should be held in incarceration -- in effect -- by guilt
                  by association," he said.

                  The president said he received petitions on behalf of the prisoners from
                  hundreds of people, including former President Jimmy Carter, South African
                  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, other religious leaders and congressmen.

                             Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.