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Senate Denounces Clemency Deal

September 15, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate denounced the Clinton administration’s clemency deal with Puerto Rican separatists on Tuesday, and one Republican accused the administration of blocking FBI testimony at a hearing on the deal.

In a 95-2 vote, the Senate criticized the arrangement that allowed 11 Puerto Ricans on Friday to leave federal prisons where they had been held for nearly two decades. The House approved a similar resolution last week 311-41.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and Clinton administration loyalist, said he voted for the resolution because the administration failed to give him a reason to vote against it.

``I have repeatedly requested information on these cases. I have been given no such information,″ Schumer said.

Voting against the resolution were Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Sens. Bob Graham, D-Fla., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and John McCain, R-Ariz., did not vote.

In a sign of how politically charged the measure was, Democrats barely discussed it in the floor debate, instead focusing on the Senate’s failure to act on education initiatives.

The Senate resolution’s author, Sen. Paul Coverdell, R- Ga., also accused the administration of stonewalling his hearing Tuesday on the clemency grant by yanking scheduled FBI testimony at the last minute and failing to provide requested documents.

Coverdell said an FBI agent was scheduled to testify at the Foreign Relations subcommittee on terrorism hearing he was holding Tuesday but that the FBI backed out Monday night at 9:30 p.m.

``I think it’s pretty clear that the White House is behind this,″ Coverdell said. ``I think their silence is almost as damaging as the decision itself because it reinforces every conclusion their adversaries make.″

Republicans and some members of the law enforcement community have accused Clinton of offering clemency to boost his wife’s all-but-announced Senate candidacy from New York, home to some 1.3 million Puerto Ricans. The issue has turned into a political headache for Hilary Rodham Clinton, who later publicly opposed the clemency offers and angered New York’s Puerto Rican leaders.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said agent Neal Gallagher was prepared to testify and submitted his prepared testimony to the Justice Department for approval, as is common practice. The Justice Department then pulled the plug, Bresson said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney responded by pointing to a letter to Coverdell, which explained that because the power to grant clemency is the president’s exclusively, there are constitutional questions about whether it would be appropriate for FBI officials to testify.

``It’s still being reviewed,″ she said.

Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel’s office, denied the administration had ordered the FBI not to testify.

Coverdell and others in Congress are requesting records the White House used in making the decision to grant clemency, such as prison records and other documents that are reported to show that the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies were opposed to the deal.

Last month President Clinton offered clemency to the 11 prisoners freed Friday, two prisoners who rejected the offer, one who accepted a deal to serve five more years and two who had already served out jail sentences and were forgiven outstanding fines. To accept the offer, they were required to renounce violence and meet other parole conditions.

Most of those offered clemency were members of the FALN _ the Spanish initials for Armed Forces of National Liberation _ which was responsible for some 130 bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s that left six dead and scores wounded. None of the 16 offered clemency was convicted of killing or wounding anyone, officials say.

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