Clinton within rights to grant clemency

Congress: Nothing to investigate when president exercises constitutional power reasonably.

September 21, 1999

CALL OFF the attack dogs. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, has every right to oppose President Clinton on everything. But Mr. Burton should not waste his party's political capital investigating every sneeze heard in the White House. He should wait until Mr. Clinton provides a valid reason.

Offering conditional clemency to 16 persons convicted of crimes related to terrorism in the 1970s is not it. The president alone has constitutional authority to grant clemency, moderation of a sentence. Mr. Burton concedes that the White House claim of executive privilege respecting the advice received is valid.

The knee-jerk interpretation that Mr. Clinton was deviously helping Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Senate in New York, never made sense. A more plausible explanation is that he signed papers put before him by departing White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff, without much thought.

It would have been be stupid to think the clemency offer would help Mrs. Clinton's election campaign against Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mr. Clinton can be careless or thoughtless, or devious. He is rarely stupid.

Whether acting wisely or not, Mr. Clinton did not compromise justice or security. The prisoners had served about 20 years of sentences ranging from 35 to 90. None had been convicted of harming any victim, but of such crimes as moving illegal weapons.

The Puerto Rican voters of New York almost universally condemn the Armed Forces of National Liberation (F.A.L.N.) methods and oppose its goal of independence for Puerto Rico.

The sentences were severe among world democracies. Israel has recently released prisoners associated with terrorist organizations and Britain released convicted murderers, as part of political reconciliations. President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were urging this action. Puerto Rican independence advocates denounced the conditions attached.

What President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and New York voters must keep in mind is that she wants to be a senator after he has left office. Her future candidacy has no legitimate connection to his current office-holding.

The two should be kept separate, by everyone.

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