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G.O.P. Wants Clinton to Explain Clemency for Puerto Rican Nationalists

by James Dao

September 2, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans stepped up pressure on the administration Wednesday to explain President Clinton's offer of clemency to 16 members of a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group, subpoenaing White House and Justice Department records and raising the likelihood of congressional hearings in the fall.

Last month, Clinton offered to reduce the sentences of 16 members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, commonly known by its Spanish initials, FALN, on the condition they renounce violence. The group was involved in more than 100 bombings in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s.

The 16 FALN members were not linked to crimes involving deaths or injuries, and the White House said Clinton considered their sentences, in some cases more than 50 years in prison, to be out of proportion to their crimes.

Wednesday, the House Committee on Government Reform issued subpoenas to the White House and the Justice Department seeking all records relating to the president's decision. The committee is also considering holding hearings on the clemency offer when Congress returns after Labor Day.

"We are going to do what we hope is a short investigation to find out why the president would be interested in pardoning 16 terrorists," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the committee chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "It should come as no shock that people on both sides of the aisles are against this."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno Wednesday requesting Justice Department records from the case. In his letter, Hatch said he was particularly concerned about a report in The New York Times that a wide range of federal law-enforcement agencies were opposed to commuting the sentences of the 16.

Spokesmen for the White House and Justice Department would not comment on the subpoenas. But a senior Justice Department official said the department was likely to resist complying with the subpoenas on the grounds that pardons are the exclusive power of the president, over which Congress has no say.

Under Clinton's proposal, 11 of the 16 FALN members would be eligible for immediate release from prison, two would have to serve more time before being eligible for release, and three others who have already been released from prison would have fines reduced. The 16 are still reviewing the offer.

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