The Corner

Politics & Policy

Eleventh-Hour Terrorist Pardons

In response to Hey Jonah

As already noted, I’m with my Corner mates on the matter of Manning (like Assange and Snowden) being one of the bad guys. But, with Obama’s near simultaneous decision to release FALN terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera, I confess to having that January 2001 feeling all over again – especially now that Jay has walked us down memory lane.

I was still a federal prosecutor back then. I was probably even more outraged by Bill Clinton’s Marc Rich pardon than most Americans. The pardon, stealthily engineered by then-deputy attorney general Eric Holder, involved a case indicted by our office against one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. Nevertheless, I was even more angry at Clinton’s last-minute release of convicted terrorists – as Jay recounts, they were Weather Underground terrorists Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans.

Rosenberg had been my case – or at least a case I’d inherited. I explained the history here back in 2008, while futilely pleading for the Senate to block Holder’s nomination to become Obama’s attorney general. If you’ll indulge me, since history is repeating itself, I will rehash it:

As execrable as the Rich pardon was, it wasn’t even the worst thing that happened that day.

Having already exhausted the country with his excesses, President Clinton’s swan song was one of his worst: a mind-blowing series of pardons. It included not only the Rich escapade but pardons of two Weather Underground terrorists, Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans. As it happens, I know a great deal about the Rosenberg case. For over a year prior to Clinton’s commutation of her richly deserved 58-year sentence, it was mine.

At the time, I was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York — the office from which Holder was desperate to conceal his stove-piped pardon process since our knowledge of the Rich case would have blown to bits the absurd but unrefuted arguments Quinn was permitted to make directly to President Clinton. 

Our office had indicted Rosenberg in the mid-Eighties in connection with the infamous Brinks robbery, in which the Weather Underground, together with the Black Liberation Army, killed two New York State troopers and a security guard. Rosenberg was never tried for the crime because, like Rich, she became a fugitive. Unlike Rich, however, Rosenberg spent her years on the lam plotting to kill more police officers, military personnel and American government officials. In November 1984, she and a cohort were captured in New Jersey. They had an arsenal worthy of a small army and were in the throes of plots to bomb more government buildings and slaughter more innocent people.

Rosenberg turned her New Jersey terrorism trial into a circus, posturing as a political prisoner. At her sentencing, she urged her supporters to continue their war against the United States. (“When we were first captured we said, we’re caught, we’re not defeated, long live the armed struggle. We’d like to take this moment to rededicate ourselves to our revolutionary principles, to our commitment to continue to fight for the defeat of U.S. imperialism.”) She expressed remorse about only one thing: she hadn’t had the courage to shoot it out with the police who’d apprehended her.

Her brazen barbarism moved a highly respected federal judge not only to impose the 58-year sentence but to recommend against parole (within the limits of then-existing law, under which convicts “maxed out” after two thirds of their jail terms). Southern District U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani then dismissed the Brinks charges: not because Rosenberg was innocent but because there had already been a grueling trial that Rosenberg didn’t deign to attend while she was out plotting murder and mayhem. There was no need for the pandemonium a second Rosenberg trial promised: the New Jersey sentence should have kept her on ice for at least 20 and, more likely, well over 30 years.

I got involved in the case because her clever lawyers — from high-octane Williams & Connolly, the same firm which had represented President Clinton in the impeachment process — tried to convince a judge to order the U.S. Parole Commission not to consider her participation in the Brinks atrocity. Their hope was that this would open the way for the commission to grant their terrorist client an early release. Ultimately, after a long, often heated litigation, they lost. (It has long been the law that sentencing courts and the Parole Commission may take into account any conduct, even if the defendant has been acquitted — which Rosenberg, of course, had not been.)

I finally persuaded the judge to rule against Rosenberg. Unbelievably, President Clinton then pardoned the terrorist — or, to be more precise, Clinton commuted the sentence to time-served, resulting in Rosenberg’s immediate release. The commutation was announced along with the Rich pardon. So was Clinton’s equally astounding decision to commute the 40-year terrorism sentence of Rosenberg’s co-conspirator, Linda Sue Evans. At the time of her arrest, Evans, who had harbored a fugitive fellow Weatherman terrorist from the Brinks murders and used a fake ID to buy a gun for Rosenberg, possessed hundreds of pounds of explosives with which she and her comrades were plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and various military installations. (Interestingly, Evans and Rosenberg were confederates of President-elect Obama’s friends, the former terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Dohrn, in fact, did a short stint in jail for contempt of court when she defied a grand jury subpoena compelling testimony about the Brinks case.)

As you might imagine, I was stunned (as were others in my office) when the Rosenberg pardon was announced on January 20, 2001. I had publicly filed, among other things, a 60-page brief in the district court laying out the history of the Rosenberg case, refuting her frivolous arguments against the Parole Commission’s consideration of the Brinks evidence, and marshaling innumerable reasons why her sentence shouldn’t be reduced by a single minute.

Naturally, Rosenberg was offered plum teaching positions upon her release. And why not? After all, her terrorist confederate Bill Ayers was the “distinguished professor of education and senior university scholar” at the University of Illinois at Chicago until his recent retirement. Interestingly, Rosenberg’s Wikipedia page describes her not as a terrorist but as a “radical political activist, author and advocate for social justice.” I was just listening to a press report about Obama’s release of Lopez-Rivera. I know it will shock you to hear that he is being described as a “political activist.” And so it goes.

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