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  •   Lawmakers Weigh In on FALN Clemency

    By George Lardner Jr.
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, September 6, 1999; Page A7

    Republican lawmakers charged yesterday that Hillary Rodham Clinton's disapproval of her husband's clemency offer to 16 members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group was a belated attempt to back off from a political favor that backfired.

    "This was an effort by the president, by the first lady, to manipulate politics in New York," Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) said on ABC's "This Week." "I think it blew up in their face."

    Hillary Clinton, who is expected to run next year for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, said in a statement Saturday that she did not think clemency should be granted because the 16 members of the group had not renounced violence.

    When President Clinton announced the clemency offer on Aug. 11, he made renunciation of violence a key condition. The move was applauded by human rights leaders who noted that most of the convicts, members of a group responsible for more than 100 bombings of U.S. political and military installations, already had served at least 19 years in prison. But a strong backlash developed among law enforcement officials and leading New York politicians.

    On Friday, the White House formally set a deadline of Sept. 17 for acceptance of the president's offer. But Hillary Clinton made clear in her statement that she thought the offer should be withdrawn. A White House spokesman said yesterday that the deadline stands.

    Meanwhile, senators from both parties called on the White House and the Justice Department to release the recommendations from the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons and federal prosecutors who reportedly opposed leniency. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a presidential contender, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Justice Department made no recommendation and suggested that its silence may have been the result of "political influence" from the White House.

    "We don't talk about what was in our report to the White House," said Justice spokeswoman Chris Watney.

    Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also urged that "what the parole board and prison authorities said" be made public. On "This Week," he said the papers might show that the members of FALN, or Armed Forces of National Liberation, were unwilling to repudiate violence.

    But "they have renounced violence," Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said on NBC. "It is unfortunate that we have to continue a conversation on an issue that is already moot."

    Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would not have offered clemency, which he said on CBS's "Face the Nation" should be granted only to those who show "an extraordinary sense of remorse."

    White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said on CNN the clemency offer had nothing "to do with politics" but was the result of "a very substantive process" led by former White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. He said the 16 were convicted of serious crimes, including armed robbery, but "not killing and maiming," as some FALN members were accused.

    "There are people on both sides of the aisle that feel passionately about this," Lockhart said. "It's not one that falls on partisan lines."

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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