FALN, Holder, and Obama: The Price Paid by One 'Ordinary American'

As an “ordinary American,” I sincerely question whether Barack Obama has the judgment to be president. His lack of judgment in choosing Eric Holder as a top adviser on his campaign — the man partly responsible for pardoning terrorists who proudly claimed responsibility for my father’s murder — serves as primary evidence supporting  that judgment.

Holder now leads Obama’s team selecting his running mate for vice president, perhaps Obama’s most important decision during the campaign. Mr. Holder, formerly the No. 2 official in former President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department, often is mentioned as a potential attorney general in an Obama administration. This is the same man who was a driving force behind President Clinton’s pardons of members of the notorious Puerto Rican terrorist group, the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN).

The FALN was one of the most prolific terrorist organizations ever to wage war against the American people. They proudly claimed responsibility for over 130 bombings and incendiary attacks in the U.S. and Puerto Rico between 1974 and 1983, killing six and wounding scores.

Among these vicious, cold-blooded attacks was the Jan. 24, 1975, lunchtime bombing at New York City’s historic Fraunces Tavern. Four innocent men were murdered that day, and one of them was my 33-year-old father, Frank Connor. My father had been very excited to get home from work that night to celebrate my brother’s and my recent 11th and 9th birthdays with his young family. Instead, after my father’s funeral, mourners shared a dinner in our home that was meant for our birthday celebration.

After members of the FALN were arrested, they threatened Judge Thomas McMillen’s life during their Chicago trial. Carmen Valentine told the judge, “You are lucky that we cannot take you right now,” and called the judge a terrorist. Dylcia Pagan warned the courtroom: “All of you, I would advise you to watch your backs.” And Ida Rodriguez told the judge, “You say we have no remorse. You’re right. … Your jails and your long sentences will not frighten us.” These terrorists convinced McMillen that they would continue being terrorists “as long as you live. If there was a death penalty, I’d impose the penalty on you without hesitation.”

Eight of these FALN terrorists later would receive pardons from President Clinton, even though they remained unrepentant. Indeed, after 18 years in prison, Ricardo Jimenez explained to Tim Russert on Meet the Press, just days after his release, that people died at Fraunces Tavern because “measures were not taken that were necessary by the people who owned those establishments.” As I watched this surreal interview I thought, “My father was eating lunch in a crowded restaurant in New York City. What precautions should the owners have taken?”

Former assistant U.S. Attorney and FALN prosecutor Deborah Devaney wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 7, 1999: “I know the chilling evidence that convicted the petitioners… . [T]he White House spun the tale that Mr. Clinton was freeing only those who had harmed no one…I would like the Connor family to know that the American justice system did not fail them, the President did.”

How does this outrageous and tragic story reflect on Barack Obama’s judgment?

Holder played a central role in freeing these terrorists. As the deputy attorney general, he was responsible for signing off on all clemency matters forwarded to the President, and in this case he recommended that clemency be granted — despite vehement opposition from the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and his own Justice Department.

In a September 1999 letter to House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, FBI Director Louis Freeh explained that “the FBI has consistently advised the DOJ in writing that the FBI was opposed to any such pardon and or commutation of sentences for any of these individuals.” Freeh said clemency “would likely return committed, experienced, sophisticated and hardened terrorists to the clandestine movement.” Mr. Freeh emphasized “the FBI was unequivocally opposed to the release of these terrorists under any circumstances and had so advised the DOJ.” Moreover, in a letter to me dated Jan. 6, 1998, (more than a year before the pardons) a senior official from Holder’s own Justice Department expressly referred to the FALN members as “terrorists.”

Yet, according to Edward Lewine of the New York Daily News, despite this opposition, “Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department official most involved with this issue, reportedly supported clemency.” Indeed, rather than consult with attack victims and their families, Mr. Holder instead met privately with members of Congress and recommended what the FALN members should do to facilitate a grant of presidential clemency.  

Was Holder the obedient DAG providing the Clintons’ with justification for politically craven pardons?  Or did Holder actually believe in unleashing unrepentant, communist terrorists on the public?  Either way, should this man influence a potential VP selection or one day be the nation’s top law enforcement officer?  Absolutely not.

The Connor family was shattered on Jan. 24, 1975. Eventually, some healing began. While not a day goes by without us thinking of him, my mom got remarried to a good man. My brother and I graduated college and established families of our own. Regrettably, Frank Connor would never get to hug his four beautiful grandchildren.

But in August 1999, the Clinton administration’s politically motivated pardons revived the terrible pain of our father’s murder. I realize that sociopath terrorists like the FALN lack remorse for their use of murder for political gain; but now our own government was disregarding my father’s life and death for some perceived political advantage.

Worse, releasing the terrorists placed the American people in danger. When I helped introduce the Pardon Attorney Reform and Integrity Act in February 2000, I warned about “the encouragement would-be terrorists must have received by the” FALN clemency grants. Unfortunately, that warning proved prophetic, and Sept. 11, 2001, took the life of my father’s 41-year-old godson, Steve Schlag, and 3,000 other innocent lives as my brother and I watched in horror from our downtown offices.

As Obama declares America needs his presidency because “ordinary Americans are hurting,” I recall the pain that one of his top advisers and a potential attorney general was an accomplice to inflicting on at least one “ordinary American” family. And then I am reminded how Holder’s actions also helped place America in harm’s way.

When he elevated Holder to such a senior campaign position, did Obama reflect the kind of judgment we need in a president?  Absolutely not.