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US

Justice blocks FBI testimony at FALN clemency hearing

prisoners
 ALSO:
Senate condemns Clinton for FALN clemency
 

September 14, 1999
Web posted at: 6:58 p.m. EDT (2258 GMT)

From Terry Frieden at the Justice Department

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday prevented the FBI from testifying at a Senate hearing on President Clinton's decision to grant clemency to members of the Puerto Rican independence group FALN.

In what appeared to represent continued tension between the Justice Department and the FBI, a senior Justice official sent a letter to Foreign Relations subcommittee chairman Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia) late Monday saying, "We cannot authorize their appearance at tomorrow's hearing."

The letter was signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jon Jennings, who heads the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs.

"In light of ... the fact that the hearing may, in significant part, address the exercise of an exclusive presidential prerogative, we are carefully reviewing this matter and consulting with the White House regarding how most appropriately to proceed," the letter said.

An FBI official told CNN Monday that Assistant Director Neil Gallagher intended to testify before congressional panels about the FALN issue on Tuesday and Thursday of this week and would express the FBI's opposition to the president's clemency offer.

An FBI official told CNN on Tuesday, "They pulled the plug on us," referring to the Justice decision to prevent the FBI testimony.

The hearing was attended only by Coverdell and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and featured emotional testimony from victims of FALN violence.

Former New York City Police Department detectives Rich Pastorella and Anthony Senft, who were seriously injured by FALN bombs, were harshly critical of Clinton's decision to grant clemency.

"President Clinton has sent terrorists a message that the law enforcement community is expendable, and terrorists will not be pursued to the ends of the earth," Pastorella told the committee.

"Clinton's actions tell would-be terrorists around the world that terrorism against the United States and its people is an acceptable form of demonstrating their political ideology," said Senft.

In 1975, Joseph Connor was celebrating his 9th birthday at a New York restaurant when an FALN bomb exploded, killing his father Frank. Connor expressed bitterness at the decision.

Connor was upset that Ricardo Jimenez, an FALN representative who was granted clemency, appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday and failed to apologize for the bomb that killed his father.

Connor released a copy of a Justice Department letter he received in 1996, which referred to FALN members as terrorists. In light of the Justice Department's position, Connor said he was unable to understand the decision to grant clemency.

Strained relations with law enforcement community

The victims and their families were joined by the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, whose condemnation of FALN clemency may represent a serious blow to the Clinton administration's efforts to maintain strong support from police organizations.

The FOP's Gilbert Gallegos said his organization had strongly supported Clinton on several law enforcement initiatives, including the program to put 100,000 more police on the nation's streets, but now had to condemn Clinton's clemency decision.

"We've stood shoulder to shoulder with the president, but with this action, all the good that has been done has been wiped away," Gallegos said.

The FOP is the nation's largest organization of law enforcement professionals, representing more than 283,000 rank and file law officers nationwide.

"We should make no mistake. The president has used his constitutional power to release convicted terrorists, despite the opposition of federal law enforcement officials, despite objections from the law enforcement community and despite the pleas of the victims and families of the dead -- killed in their wave of bomb attacks," Gallegos said.

The administration opposed sending any representatives to testify in support of the president's decision.

After the hearing, Coverdell complained to reporters that the Clinton administration has refused his committee's efforts to obtain documents relating to the FALN clemency decision- making process.



RELATED STORIES:
First Lady opposes Presidential clemency for Puerto Rican Nationalists
September 5, 1999
White House sets Friday deadline for FALN clemency
September 4, 1999
Lawyers for Puerto Rican prisoners call Clinton's clemency offer unfair
September 3, 1999
White House responds to criticism of clemency offer
September 2, 1999
New York's top cop opposed to clemency for Puerto Rican nationalists
August 23, 1999
Clinton offers clemency to 11 Puerto Rican independence activists
August 8, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Puerto Rican Prisoners of War
Political Prisoner Profile
Terrorist Attacks in U.S.
Puerto Rico Statehood
The Prisoners
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