I didn’t really see much in the papers today about the significant opposition Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee expressed yesterday about Eric Holder’s support ten years ago for then-President Clinton granting clemency to 16 FALN terrorists.
So as Mr. Holder’s contentious confirmation hearings continue today, ABC News’ Huma Khan has pulled some choice exchanges on the matter:
Sen. TOM COBURN, R-Okla.: I want to go back to FALN for a minute, being from Oklahoma, and the tremendous tragedy that we had there. And I’ve heard your statements in terms of reasonableness.
Why did not the weight of the prosecutors and the victims’ families bear more on your decision in terms of thinking that that was a reasonable pardon? Tell me how you came to this idea that it’s — you know, it’s possibly reasonable.
HOLDER: I mean, I did factor that into my determination. You had two United States attorneys who weighed in against it. Law enforcement was against it. There are obviously the feelings that victims had. And we took those into — I took those into — let’s talk about me — I took those into account, and balanced that against the people who were advocating for it, an impressive group of people.
Also looked at the nature of the crimes, the duration of the sentences that they had served. And it seemed to me that on balance, on balance — it was a difficult decision — but on balance, in a pre- 9/11 world, that the sentences that they had — substantial sentences, up to 19 years, 16, 19 years — that that was appropriate, that the clemency petitions were appropriate. That was what — those are the factors I considered.
COBURN: So, when we had our conversation together in the office, which I enjoyed very much, you admitted to a couple of mistakes of judgment. But you would tell this committee now, you don’t think that was one of them.
HOLDER: No, I think we can certainly have a difference of opinion about that. But I don’t think that what I did there was a mistake in the same way that I would describe what I did in the pardon, the Rich pardon matter, as a mistake.
COBURN: I just have to kind of think back. And the fact that, if Terry Nichols were to get clemency right now, what would the people of Oklahoma think? You know.
Here’s the co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing. And under the same circumstances, you know — which, granted, there is some differences in the case, but there’s not a whole lot of difference. One is aiding and abetting versus commission of an act. So, that is still worrisome to me.
Sen. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: Let me re-address and, because of the nature of these — I’ve been in and out, and forgive me if this is territory you’ve covered before. It probably is.
But as you know, on August 11, 1999, President Clinton extended offers of clemency to 16 terrorists who were committed to gaining Puerto Rico’s independence by waging war on the United States. They had not shown remorse for their crime, and they had not even applied for clemency.
Yet the clemency that was granted by President Clinton has been condemned overwhelmingly by both parties in both houses of Congress. And I’m advised — and please, I’m asking this as a question — I was advised that this morning, that you called this clemency reasonable.
Could you explain why you think it’s reasonable?
HOLDER: Yes. I thought — what I said was, I thought that the president’s determination was a reasonable one, given the fact that there was — that these people had served really extended periods of time in jail. Given the fact that — the nature of the offenses of which they were convicted, they did not directly harm anyone. They were not responsible directly for any murders.
But I think another factor is that we deal with a world now that is different than the one that existed then. That decision was made in a pre-9/11 context.
I don’t know what President Clinton would do now. I tend to think that I would probably view that case in a different way in a post-9/11 world.
CORNYN: How about in a post-New York Trade Center bombing of 1993, attacks against our embassies in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole? Would those have been sufficient to raise your concern about granting clemency to acknowledged terrorists, who did not even apply for clemency and who showed no remorse for their crimes?
HOLDER: I was saying to Senator — I think it was Senator Graham — that I think we as a nation didn’t come to understand that we were at war soon enough, that we waited, perhaps, until the attacks in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington on September the 11th.
And, you know, hindsight is always 20-20. But I think that, looking at the incidents that you have referenced, those — again, I can’t speak for the president — but those, I think, might have had an impact on my views.
CORNYN: Did you recommend clemency for the FALN terrorists to President Clinton?
CORNYN: Was that a mistake?
HOLDER: No, I don’t think it was a mistake.
CORNYN: Well, let me rephrase that, in fairness to you. You said, after 9/11, you would have viewed it differently. Post-9/11, if you had it to do over again, would you do the same thing? Or would you have declined to recommend it to the president?
HOLDER: It’s an interesting question. I think that I would have viewed it differently. I think that the recommendation that I might have made would have been different in this way.
I think I would have said either this is something we shouldn’t do, or, to the extent that you want — or to the extent that there’s a desire to do something, and you’re asking what my opinion is — that the sentences should not be commuted to the extent that they were.
I think that’s where I probably would have ended up. I don’t think I would have — I would not have ended up, I think, in the same place that I was when that happened.
CORNYN: You would agree with me that, I assume that after 9/11, the legal, correct and appropriate way to address this novel attack against the United States, and the fact that we — I think you agreed with Senator Graham earlier that they should not be treated — terrorism should not be considered just a mere crime. But that these are — this whole — the war against terror raised a number of novel legal issues that, really, we had not had to struggle with since World War II. And even then, it was far different than it was today — or is today.
Sen. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: With regard to the FALN clemency situation, we had a hearing on it in the Senate, and it was pretty contentious. The United States Senate passed a resolution that was 95-2 — I think that most every member of this committee supported it — that deplored that pardon and included "whereas the release of terrorists is an affront to the rule of law, the victims and their families, and every American who believes that violent acts must be punished to the fullest extent of the law," then it deplored those activities. We discussed that at some length, and my time is winding down now. Maybe we’ll be able to talk about it a little later.
SESSIONS: But fundamentally let me say this: I thought it was an inexplicable pardon. I believe that it reversed the recommendation of Margaret Love, a very fine pardon attorney who I believe you removed, and imposed and allowed this to go forward in a way that I think is unjustifiable — I just think is unjustifiable. And you indicated you learned from that process…
I’ll just ask this simple question: You’ve indicated you made a mistake. Do you believe that the decision and the ultimate act of President Clinton to pardon these individuals was wrong?
HOLDER: I think it’s a difficult decision that the president had. I think that there were a lot of people who were in support of that clemency request: Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Coretta Scott King, President Carter, Desmond Tutu, Cardinal O’Connor in New York.
When one looks at the nature of the offenses that put those people in jail, these were criminals. These were terrorists. These were bad people. But the president’s determination was that they had not committed any acts themselves that resulted in death or bodily injury.
And on that basis, and given the amount of time that they had served in jail — roughly 16-19 years, most I think 19 years — and given the length of the sentences that they had received, it was his determination that the clemency requests were appropriate, taking all that into consideration.
SESSIONS: But do you personally now — I know the president has justified it…
SESSIONS: Do you personally have an opinion after all of this whether it was right or wrong?
HOLDER: I think that given all that I have described that what the president did was reasonable.
SCHUMER: My colleagues have mentioned them already. I’m not a fan of either the Marc Rich pardon or the FALN. I disagree with your ultimate analysis on FALN — and on Marc Rich, I guess, although you certainly said that was a mistake. I was a critic then, and I’m a critic now. The essential point, though, is that many who have criticized your role in those pardons — Democrat and Republican alike — recognize your entire career and vigorously support your nomination: Jim Comey, Louis Freeh, the Fraternal Order of Police.