The Decision is Clinton's - Why Is He Ducking?

December 1995 - Hershel Shanks - Moment Magazine

Generally, it has been assumed that Jonathan Pollard will not be freed unless the Israeli government makes a more insistent case to President Clinton. Well, it turns out that the Israeli government has - at least according to presidential press secretary Michael McCurry. McCurry recently told a press briefing that "in most of the bilateral conversations that we've had with the government of Israel, the status of the Pollard case is raised ... They had very strong views on this, clearly." Indeed, the Pollard case was raised by Prime Minister Rabin when he was in Washington for the signing of Oslo II on September 28. So why doesn't Clinton act? According to McCurry's somewhat cloudy explanation:

"Until Mr. Pollard reaches his parole date, the President can only consider clemency recommendations, which would be the other available option, as they are referred to him by other officials in government. He [the president] made it clear to the Prime Minister he had not received any clemency recommendations. As a result of that, he can't make any decision on the Pollard case" (Italics added).

The implication is that unless the Justice Department recommends commutation of Pollard's sentence, the President is not legally authorized to do so.

This is an inaccurate statement of the law, according to Mr. Clinton's own Department of Justice. The President's authority to grant clemency (reprieves and pardons) stems directly from the Constitution (Article II, Section 2). It may not be restricted even by Congress, let alone any Department of Justice regulation. But the fact is that the Department of Justice regulations make this very clear. The regulations state explicitly and unmistakably that they do not "restrict the authority granted to the President" to grant clemency or commute a sentence.

Why is Mr. Clinton trying to avoid responsibility? Why is he hiding behind some inapplicable procedures? Why is he in the strange position of denying his own presidential powers? Why is he afraid to make a decision - and then explain it?