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Clinton denies political consideration in clemency

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton told Congress he granted
clemency to 14 Puerto Rican nationalists on the belief "that a
punishment should fit the crime." No politics was involved, he
said.

Clinton outlined his position in a five-page letter to Rep.
Henry Waxman of California, who read it Tuesday at the start of a
House Government Reform Committee hearing on the clemency. Waxman
is the senior Democrat on the committee.

Clinton said he based his decision on the "extremely lengthy
sentences" the prisoners were serving, most between 35 and 90
years.

The explanation from the president came just days after the
White House announced it was invoking executive privilege to block
Congress from access to documents and high-level testimony
pertaining to the clemency. The House panel hearing testimony
Tuesday had issued subpoenas to get that information.

Clinton defended that decision in his letter, noting that the
granting of clemency is an exclusive power of the president.

"In vesting the pardon power to the president alone, the
framers of the Constitution ensured that clemency could be given
even in cases that might be unpopular and controversial," he
wrote.

The letter did little to cool Republican ire at the hearing. The
committee's chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said Clinton had a
"moral obligation" to explain why he had put terrorists back on
the streets.

"What the president is basically saying is that it's his
decision and as far as Congress and the American people are
concerned it's none of their business," Burton said.

Clinton's offer of clemency has come under fire from some who
have accused him of making it to boost first lady Hillary Rodham
Clinton's popularity among New York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans.
Mrs. Clinton is considering a bid for the Senate from New York in
2000.

Clinton said in his letter that "political considerations
played no role in the process."

He said the timing of the announcement was dictated instead by
his former chief counsel, Charles F.C. Ruff's departure. Ruff had
pledged to complete the review of the clemency case before leaving
the government.

"His recommendation and my decision were based on our view of
the merits of the requests," Clinton wrote Waxman.

Burton displayed a grainy FBI surveillance videotape said to
show two of the militants allegedly making a letter bomb.
Republicans are trying to disprove Clinton's contention that none
of those offered clemency had been involved in a violent crime.

The brother of one of those shown in the tape, Edwin Cortes,
called it "old news."

"My opinion is that this is all party politics," Julio Cortes
said. "They've got something that they think they can play up
against Clinton and the Democrats, election time's coming up, and
they want to get as much mileage as they can politically out of
this."

In his letter, Clinton noted that he required the prisoners to
renounce violence as a condition of clemency

"Many of those who supported unconditional clemency for the
prisoners argued that they were political prisoners who acted out
of sincere political beliefs. I rejected this argument," Clinton
wrote.

The jailed Puerto Ricans had spent nearly 20 years in prison,
yet had not been charged with acts of violence that left anyone
dead or wounded, Clinton said.

Most of those offered clemency were associated with the FALN --
the Spanish abbreviation for the Armed Forces of National
Liberation -- responsible for a wave of bombings of U.S. civilian
and military targets in the late 1970s and early 1980s that left
six dead.

Those granted clemency were convicted of seditious conspiracy
and possession of weapons and explosives. Among those petitioning
for their release were former President Carter and Archbishop
Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Fourteen accepted the offer and 11 of them were recently
released.

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