GOP Digs for FALN Clemency Motives
Sep. 20, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans plan to apply legislative pressure to learn why President Clinton offered clemency to 16 imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalists, but at least one GOP lawmaker says he already knows the answer.
``Almost anybody with any brains would conclude'' that Clinton issued the order to boost Hillary Rodham Clinton's electoral prospects for the Senate in New York, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, said on ``Fox News Sunday.''
``It looks like you did it to help your wife's Senate race,'' the Utah Republican said, addressing his remarks to Clinton.
Democrats countered that the president is too politically savvy to take such an action purely to help his wife in a state with 1.3 million people of Puerto Rican heritage.
The first lady, who remains officially uncommitted to a 2000 Senate race, opposed the deal after it began to draw criticism from law enforcement officials and others; she then was criticized by some Puerto Rican leaders in New York.
``The president of the United States could not have done anything this dumb thinking that he was trying to help a candidate running for office in New York,'' Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said on Fox. ``The Puerto Rican vote, as important as it may be, certainly when you look at the New York state vote would be infinitesimal.''
Clinton has said the political ramifications for his wife played ``absolutely'' no role in his decision and that she was not aware of his offer until one of her aides asked her to comment on it.
The president offered clemency last month to 16 imprisoned Armed Forces of National Liberation members if they would renounce violence and agree to other conditions. The president said he acted in response to human rights officials who argued the sentences for bombing-related acts, ranging from 15 to 90 years, were too harsh. All but two members accepted the deal.
Republicans in Congress contend the offer was politically motivated and are beginning a round of investigations. The White House and Justice Department, citing executive privilege, have rejected GOP requests for documents and testimony related to the clemency offer.
Hatch's Judiciary Committee plans to issue subpoenas Thursday for such material. Hatch said he might subpoena Attorney General Janet Reno, but did not expect much cooperation from her.
He also has said he is prepared to take the administration to court for the documents and if that failed, try to withhold money from the Justice Department.
On the House side, the Government Reform Committee is scheduled to hear Tuesday from victims of the bombings along with officials from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons.
``We will have a serious investigation,'' Committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., said on NBC's ``Meet the Press. ``The president has a moral responsibility to tell the American people why he did this.''
Law enforcement officials in New York decried Clinton's offer as an insult to victims of the 130 bomb attacks on U.S. civilian and military targets that members of the Puerto Rican group, known by its Spanish initials FALN, staged from 1974 to 1983. Six people were killed and dozens wounded in the attacks, but none of those offered clemency was involved in incidents in which people died.
Earlier this month, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved nonbinding resolutions condemning Clinton's action.
Republicans have demanded _ and last week, Burton's committee subpoenaed _ documents Clinton used in deciding to make the deal. But the president followed Reno's advice and invoked executive privilege on many of them. It was the fourth time he has invoked the privilege to refuse a request by Congress.