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The greatest scandal of the Clinton presidency may be yet to come. It includes some of the same elements of the previous Clinton scandals, but also one crucial additional element. It is about national security — but does not center on Communist China. It is about a Justice Department cover-up — but revolves around successful prosecutions that were later unmade, rather than prosecutions that were never made. Yet, it involves neither sex nor campaign money — as far as is known.
It unmistakably does, however, raise the question of whether the president engaged in an outrageous abuse of his constitutional power — a question that ought to make Democrats nervous because, during January’s Senate impeachment trial, it was the Democratic Party line to insist that a president could not be impeached if he obstructed justice or committed perjury, but only if he misused his constitutional authority.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released the unclassified version of a report
from Attorney General Janet Reno, titled, “The five-year interagency counterterrorism and technology crime plan.” The report concludes that many Cold War-era terrorist threats have diminished or disappeared. But Reno cited one notable exception:
Increased threat “Puerto Rican terrorist groups…are an exception and represent an ongoing threat,” said Reno’s report. ” They have previously used violence in an attempt to achieve independence for Puerto Rico. In an 11-year span, Puerto Rican terrorists were responsible for more than 100 bombings and arsons, in both Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. Factors which increase the present threat from these groups include renewed activity by a small minority advocating Puerto Rican statehood, the 100-year anniversary of U.S. presence in Puerto Rico, and the impending release from prison of members of these groups jailed for prior violence.”
The obvious conclusion? The Justice Department believes that, when President Clinton released a group of Puerto Rican terrorists in August, he was using his power as president to “increase the present threat” of terrorism against the United States. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Oct. 20, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, a Clinton political appointee, made a feeble attempt to argue that the report was not referring to the Puerto Rican terrorists Clinton released, but to some other Puerto Rican terrorists due to be released in the near future. Alarmed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded to know exactly who these other soon-be-liberated terrorists were, but Holder could not provide an answer.
Questioned on the matter again the next day at a press briefing, Holder once again implied that the report was speaking not about the Clinton-released terrorists, but about other Puerto Rican terrorists who would be released because their prison terms were about to expire. But he still did not specify who these other terrorists were.
Congressional sources, however, do not believe there are any other terrorists. They believe Reno was referring specifically to the terrorists Clinton released. Bearing out this suspicion, a week after the hearing, the Justice Department still could not provide an answer to Human Events. But at least they did not claim executive privilege on the question. In response to a Sept. 1 subpoena from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and to a letter of the same date from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Clinton White House has invoked executive privilege to prevent any White House staff member from testifying to Congress on the matter, and to deny Congress the right to review any of the communications that took place between the
Justice Department and the White House regarding the release of the terrorists.
After the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to authorize its own subpoenas to the Justice Department, but before the committee actually filed the subpoenas, the department agreed to let Pardon Attorney Roger Adams and Deputy Attorney General Holder testify Oct. 20. At the hearing itself, Holder invoked executive privilege in refusing to say whether he gave the president an opinion on the clemency issue. The committee, however, had secured a copy of a July 25, 1997, letter from then-Pardon Attorney Margaret Love to then-White House Counsel Charles Ruff clearly stating that she had submitted to him “a report recommending denial of clemency for 17 Puerto Rican prisoners.”
The evidence gathered by the committee so far reveals a long string of anomalies attached to the President’s inexplicable decision to release these terrorists:
Terrorists never petitioned for clemency. The FALN terrorists themselves never asked for clemency. A July 1993 letter from Love to the deputy attorney general explained, “Apparently because they regarded themselves as political prisoners, the five refused to apply for parole or executive clemency after their imprisonment and did not submit formal clemency applications. A letter from an attorney, who claimed to be their legal representative, was accepted in lieu of a formal petition.”
“Although a formal clemency application by an inmate is not mandatory,” a Justice Department spokesman said, “we ordinarily do require inmates for whom clemency is being considered to submit a signed application, to ensure that they actually desire this relief and will accept it if is granted.”
Clemency advocates knew terrorists weren’t repentant. Notes from a November 1997 meeting among Adams, Holder and Democratic reps. Jose Serrano of New York, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Nydia Velasquez of New York indicate that when Holder asked whether the terrorists had really repented, Serrano gave evasive answers. “Whether you are repentant or not goes to who we are as a human being,” he said. “The fact that they have not applied reinforces the political nature of who they are.”
According to notes from an April 1998 meeting with clergymen who supported clemency, Holder asked the Rev. Paul Sherry, who claimed to have met with most of the FALN members, whether or not they had renounced violence. “Rev. Sherry said they would not change their beliefs. This probably meant they would not change their beliefs
about Puerto Rican independence, although he gave a carefully phrased answer that did not make it entirely clear that they had renounced the use of violence.”
Jailhouse tapes show no repentance An April 1999 phone call taped by the Bureau of Prisons features Adolfo Matos, one of the FALN terrorists to whom Clinton offered immediate release, speaking with a woman named Lydia.
Lydia: “Are you willing to ask for a pardon?”
Matos: “No. I don’t have to ask forgiveness from anybody …”
Lydia: “Don’t you feel ashamed of it?”
Matos: “No, no, no, my love, I have nothing to be ashamed of, or feel that I have to ask for forgiveness. I don’t have to ask for forgiveness because my conscience is at peace with itself.”
Justice solicited a repentance statement. The Justice Department repeatedly urged Gutierrez, who acted as a liaison with the FALN prisoners, to secure statements of remorse. He promised Holder they would be forthcoming, but they never materialized.
FALN convicts never renounced violence. A collective statement, signed by the FALN prisoners, not only does not renounce violence, it rationalizes it.
“Invoking the right under international law to use all means available does not mean we used them with no respect for human life,” the statement said.
U.S. attorneys and FBI opposed clemency. Adams wrote talking points for Holder to use when he informed U.S. attorneys that Clinton would release the terrorists. The notes indicate that the prosecutors opposed clemency.
“The United States Attorney’s Office [in the Northern District of Illinois] recommended strongly against commutation of sentence,” wrote Adams. “Four of the defendants who are receiving some form of clemency were convicted in Connecticut for offenses relating to their involvement with a group known as Los Macheteros (‘the Machete
Wielders’),” and, he added, “they were convicted of crimes relating to an armed robbery of a Wells Fargo office in which more than $7 million was taken…The United States
Attorney’s Office strongly opposed clemency in these cases.”
In an unsent letter to Rep.Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., FBI Director Louis Freeh said that “the FBI was unequivocally opposed to the release of these terrorists under any circumstances and had so advised DOJ.”
Terrorists conspired to make war against U.S. In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., Clinton said, “Whatever the conduct of the other FALN members may have been, these petitioners, while convicted of serious crimes, were not convicted of crimes involving the killing or maiming of any individuals.” The actual indictments they were convicted on, however, charge them with conspiring to use force against the authority of the government of the United States. A federal prosecutor familiar with the FALN case told Human Events that the FBI deserved kudos for catching these terrorists before further acts of violence were committed.
“That’s to the FBI’s credit, not [the FALN's],” she said. “The FBI took them down on the day they were planning to blow up military offices and rob a Chicago Transit Authority fare collector. They were in [a safe house] making actual bombs. They were planning to rob that armored car and to kidnap an executive. He would probably have
been killed.” The FBI duped the FALN by secretly substituting inert materials for the actual explosives they were loading into their bombs.
“It’s absurd to argue that, because they were stopped before they were able to harm someone, that they should get some sort of credit for this,” said the prosecutor. “Just because they weren’t caught committing violence doesn’t mean it’s not a violent conspiracy.”
Terrorists’ conspiracy did kill and destroy. Pardon Attorney Love further said in her ’93 letter: “The 18 Puerto Ricans whose release is now sought by Dr. Falcon’s organization were convicted by federal and Illinois state courts in the 1980s for various offenses, including the 1977 bombing which killed a Mobil Oil company employee and an armed robbery of $7.5 million from an armored car.”
Current sentencing guidelines would have been just as severe. Clinton and others have claimed that FALN members were given inordinately long sentences and that under current guidelines their penalties would be less severe. But in response to an inquiry from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, Tim McGrath, the staff director of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, wrote that under the new rules, FALN members not only would have been given sentences just as severe, but most likely would have been charged under the Treason guideline.
“Because the object of the FALN conspiracy, and the conduct alleged as part of the conspiracy, amounted to an avowed intent by the members of the conspiracy to wage war against the United States, a court could appropriately find that the most analogous guideline is … Treason.”