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Clinton Defends Clemency

President Clinton is denying he granted clemency to convicted Puerto Rican nationalists for political reasons.

In a five-page letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform, the president defends and explains his decision to offer clemency to 16 FALN members, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

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

Mr. Clinton says the decision was a "very difficult one" and he understands that other people could review the same facts he did and arrive at a different conclusion.

Mr. Clinton asserts that "political considerations played no role in the process." Critics have suggested the clemency was aimed at boosting first lady Hillary Clinton's popularity among the 1.3 million Puerto Ricans who live in New York, where she is contemplating a bid for the Senate in 2000.

He says he "did not dismiss" the concerns of those in law enforcement who opposed clemency.

He again cited the calls for clemency made by Jimmy Carter, Bishop Tutu, Coretta Scott King and members of Congress.

He points out that those offered clemency, while convicted of serious crimes, were not convicted of crimes involving the killing or maiming of any individuals.
He defends asserting executive privilege in response to Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton's subpoena for memos and testimony concerning the decision process, saying "the demand clearly intruded on areas reserved to the president under the Constitution."

"The FALN was involved in 130 bombings, five people were killed, 84 injured," Burton said at the start of hearings Tuesday on the clemency decision. "Why did the president make this decision? What is the public benefit? I think he has a moral obligation to explain to the American people why he did this."

Mr. Clinton stressed that the pardon power is the president's alone, explaining that "the framers ... ensured that clemency could be given even in cases that might be unpopular and controversial."

Republicans, who control the House Government Reform Committee, are displaying a grainy videotape that purports to show one of the militants allegedly making a bomb. Republicans are trying to disprove Mr. Clinton's contention that none of those to whom he offered clemency had been involved in a violent crime.

"Here they are making bombs. I'd say that's pretty violent," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the House panel.

But Julio Cortes, brother of freed prisoner Edwin Cortes, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the tape was "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."