Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Jon Jennings and I have been the Acting Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legislative Affairs since April of this year. The Office of Legislative Affairs serves as the liaison to Congress for the Department and implements the legislative strategy to carry out the Attorney General's initiatives requiring Congressional action. The Office articulates the Department's views on congressional legislative initiatives and responds for the Department to requests and inquiries from congressional committees, individual members and their staffs. The Office facilitates and coordinates the Department's response to congressional oversight inquiries as well as the appearance of Department witnesses before congressional committees.
I want to begin by extending my and the Department's deepest sympathy to those whose lives were tragically affected by FALN criminal conduct. There can be no question that they and their families have suffered tremendous pain and loss. Nothing in my testimony today should in any way be understood as disrespect for the tragedy suffered by those from whom you have heard today. I was raised to respect and admire members of the law enforcement community as American heroes, and I wish there was something that I personally could do to take away the pain and suffering that has been caused by cowardly acts of violence.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Department has produced thousands of pages of records in response to your September 1st subpoena. We have provided records from the Bureau of Prisons and the Parole Commission regarding the sixteen individuals who were named in your subpoena, including judgment and commitment orders, the petition for clemency, pre-sentence reports and reports about their conduct in prison. We are processing additional documents, including any tapes of their telephone conversations while in prison that may exist, and other non-privileged records relating to the clemency petition. Today, we are providing additional records and continuing our efforts to respond to your subpoenas. We also are prepared to produce a large number of letters from the public supporting the clemency petitions, although your staff may first wish to review samples of them, since many of them are largely identical form letters and petitions. In addition, at the request of your chief counsel, Mr. Wilson, I arranged for the Pardon Attorney to brief staff of this Committee on the pardon process. We are also gathering documents in response to your September 16th subpoena and will provide you with non-privileged records as promptly as possible.
As the Committee knows, the Department of Justice acts as a confidential advisor to the President in connection with the exercise of his constitutional authority to grant pardons. Because the pardon power is an exclusive constitutional prerogative of the President, we have historically declined to disclose the substance of the Department's advice and communications to the President concerning these decisions. As Attorney General Mitchell Palmer explained 80 years ago to a Congressional committee:
The President, in his action on pardon cases, is not subject to the control or supervision of anyone, nor is he accountable in any way to any branch of the government for his action, and to establish a precedent of submitting pardon papers to Congress, or to a Committee of Congress, does not seem to me to be a wise one.
Letter from A. Mitchell Palmer, Attorney General, to Hon. George W. Edmonds, Chairman, House Committee on Claims (Sept. 25, 1919).
In addition, the disclosure of advice that members of the Executive Branch give to the President would have a chilling effect on the frank exchange of views that the President needs in order to receive full and accurate advice.
In response to this Committee's subpoenas to the Department and the White House, the President has asserted executive privilege as to some of the subpoenaed documents and certain areas of testimony that the Committee seeks. As I indicated in my letter to you dated September 16th, the President has asserted privilege with respect to:
(1) advice and other deliberative communications to the President regarding his clemency decision;
- (2) deliberative documents and communications generated within and between the Department of Justice and the White House in connection with the preparation of that advice;
- and (3) testimony by Department officials concerning Executive Branch deliberations in connection with the clemency decision.
Consistent with the President's privilege assertion, I can provide a limited amount of non- privileged information concerning the Department's role as adviser to the President on clemency matters. The petitions for commutation were submitted to the Department in 1993. In accordance with Department regulations, the Department submitted a written report and recommendation to the White House in 1996 which stated whether, in the words of the regulation, the President should grant or deny the petition for clemency. In light of the President's assertion of privilege, I am not at liberty to disclose the contents or substance of that report or recommendation. I can, however, tell you that the clemency review process did not end with that submission, and that there were subsequent communications on the subject of clemency between the Department and the White House. I cannot tell you anything more about those later communications because they are the subject of the President's assertion of executive privilege.
I can, however, pledge to you that we have made and will continue to make every effort to provide the Committee as soon as we can with the remaining responsive documents for which the President does not assert his privilege. I hope that your staff will work with us so that we can prioritize our efforts regarding materials of most interest to the Committee.