FBI chief denounces Clinton’s willingness to review Peltier case

The New York Times

WASHINGTON – President Clinton’s willingness to reconsider the life sentences given to Leonard Peltier for the killings of two FBI agents more than two decades ago has provoked an intense lobbying campaign by Peltier’s defenders and by a powerful opponent – FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Law enforcement officials said that Freeh expressed bitterness when Clinton said last month in a radio interview that he would review the Peltier case, along with all other clemency petitions, to “see what the merits dictate,” raising an issue that once again pitted the president against his FBI director.

Clinton and his aides have long expressed tepid support for Freeh – most pointedly since it became widely known two years ago that Freeh had repeatedly sought to persuade Attorney General Janet Reno to seek an independent counsel to investigate Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for possible campaign fund-raising improprieties.

But if the political finance issue was a professional dispute, the Peltier case is a deeply personal matter for many FBI agents. Freeh, in a letter to Clinton and congressional Republicans on Tuesday, said that in his seven years as FBI director no issue had aroused such opposition as the possibility that sentence of Peltier, an American Indian activist, might be commuted.

“Ignoring for a moment the extreme and remorseless brutality of the acts themselves, our employees see Peltier’s crimes as a complete affront to our cherished system of government under the rule of law,” Freeh wrote of the killings of agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams.

“I hear nothing but abhorrence that there is a possibility, let alone a probability, that Peltier could be released despite repeated and open expression of willingness to murder law enforcement officers, and, in the case of agents Coler and Williams, doing so without hesitation.”

Peltier, who is 56, has long said he was not guilty of the killings. He was quoted in an interview, conducted at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., earlier this year, saying, “I didn’t kill those people.”

Peltier’s lawyers said the case against him was flawed. Jennifer Harbury, one of Peltier’s lawyers said, “Mr. Peltier never did receive a fair trial of any kind because FBI agents coerced and intimidated witnesses, intentionally used false testimony and concealed from the defense a critical ballistic test reflecting his innocence.”

At the time of the shootings, the two agents, in separate cars, were following a red utility vehicle in a search for a robbery suspect on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. The agents stopped at a fork in the road and were fired upon. Investigators later counted more than 125 bullet holes in the agents’ vehicles.

Investigators later concluded that the agents were wounded in the attack, but not fatally. They were killed by a gunman who stood over the men and fired a weapon at close range into the heads of the two agents. The government said at Peltier’s trial that only he had a weapon of the type believed to be responsible for the killings.

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