Feb. 22, 2008 -- The Hillary Clinton campaign pushed to reporters today stories about Barack Obama and his ties to former members of a radical domestic terrorist group -- but did not note that as president, Clinton's husband pardoned more than a dozen convicted violent radicals, including a member of the same group mentioned in the Obama stories.
"Wonder what the Republicans will do with this issue," mused Clinton spokesman Phil Singer in one e-mail to the media, containing a New York Sun article reporting a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the Weather Underground, to Obama in 2001. (Obama's ties to the radical group first surfaced last week in a Bloomberg News article.)
In a separate e-mail, Singer forwarded an article from Politico.com reporting on a 1995 event at a private home that brought Obama together with Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, another former member of the radical group.
Opting to leave any attacks on the issue to the GOP may be wise, as attacks from Clinton could backfire. In his final day in office, President Clinton pardoned another one-time member of the Weather Underground, Susan L. Rosenberg, after she had served 16 years in prison on federal charges.
Rosenberg had been arrested in 1984 while unloading 740 pounds of dynamite, a submachine gun and other weapons from the back of a car.
Rosenberg admitted the materials were to supply others for politically-motivated attacks. Authorities had been searching for Rosenberg since 1981, for what they believed was her role in the robbery of a Brinks truck in Rockland County, N.Y. The attack, for which Rosenberg was thought to have aided with surveillance and getaway driving, left two police officers and a guard dead.
Rosenberg has denied playing a role in the Brinks heist. In arguing for a pardon in 2001, she noted that she had been a model prisoner.
And in 1999, President Clinton also pardoned 16 violent Puerto Rican nationalists responsible for more than 100 bombings of U.S. political and military installations, after they promised to renounce violence. The attacks reportedly killed six people and wounded dozens more. In justifying the pardons, President Clinton noted none of the men had been convicted of crimes that resulted in death or injuries.
At the time, the first lady said she opposed her husband's decision to free the men, who had by then each served more than 19 years in prison for crimes including armed robbery and illegal weapons possession. The reason, a spokesman said then, was that the men had taken too long -- more than three weeks -- to agree to renounce any future violent activity.
Contacted by phone Friday morning, spokesman Singer declined to comment for the record for this article.
"If the Clinton campaign is truly concerned about the exploitation of the Weather Underground issue by the Republican attack machine, perhaps they should focus on the pardon of some of its members in the waning days of the Clinton administration," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.
Ayers and Dohrn disappeared after a bomb, meant to be detonated at New Jersey military barracks, prematurely exploded in a Manhattan townhouse. It was expected to have been one of more than two dozen bombings by the group. The two turned themselves in to authorities in 1980. Neither served jail time for the attacks to which they were believed to be linked.
Richard Esposito contributed to this report.