Holder’s honesty before Congress disputed in earlier high-profile cases

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But the president refused a congressional subpoena for details about the clemency offer and cited executive privilege to prevent his staff and the Justice Department from being questioned about the recommendation. Mr. Holder told the committee that he could not say whether the Justice Department recommended against the clemency offer because of the claim of executive privilege and also declined to comment on a July 1997 letter from the department’s former pardon attorney, Margaret Colgate Love, to White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff quoting a December 1996 report recommending against clemency for the FALN members.

Republicans charged at the time that Mr. Holder had pushed some of his Justice Department subordinates to drop their opposition to granting clemency, and questions were raised about whether he instructed staff members at the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to replace the department’s original report recommending against any commutations, which had been sent to the White House in 1996, with one that favored clemency for at least half the prisoners.

After Pardon Attorney Roger Adams resisted, Mr. Holder’s chief of staff instructed him to draft a neutral “options memo” instead, which allowed Mr. Clinton to grant the commutations without appearing to oppose the Justice Department’s position.

FBI counterterrorism official Neil J. Gallagher told a House committee a month earlier that the 16 offered clemency were not the nonviolent criminals as they were portrayed, but that they had a direct hand in actual or potential deaths and injuries. He said they represented a “threat to the United States” and their release would have a “psychological and operation impact on active terrorist organizations [that could] reinvigorate them.” During the hearing, an FBI surveillance video showed two of the men at a table assembling bombs.

Mr. Hatch and Mr. Grassley, along with Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Ashcroft of Missouri and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, along with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, criticized the Justice Department for failing to contact victims of FALN violence concerning the clemency offer.

At his 2009 confirmation hearing, Mr. Holder said: “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.”

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