Newt Gingrich, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, would consider pardoning convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, he told CNN on Thursday.
In an interview with the news network's Wolf Blitzer, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who during the 1990s criticized President Bill Clinton for considering a pardon as a means of furthering the Israel-Palestinian peace process, said Pollard's 26 years in prison may suffice if measured against similar cases.
Pollard, a U.S.-born Israeli, disclosed sensitive information to the Jewish state while serving as a U.S. naval intelligence analyst.
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Blitzer asked Gingrich how he would react if he were elected president and then approached by the Israeli prime minister to pardon Pollard. Gingrich said, "I am prepared to say my bias is towards clemency," citing the many years Pollard has already spent behind bars. But Gingrich said he must further explore the issue before he makes a decision, adding that he generally favors harsh punishment for "those who spy on the U.S." and that successive U.S. administrations have turned down Israeli pleas to free Pollard.
"I also have a study under way to compare his sentence with comparable people who have been sentenced for very long sentences for comparable deeds," Gingrich said.
At the Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home, an advocacy group that has been at the forefront of the campaign to free the spy, Gingrich's remarks were met with approval. One member of the organization noted Thursday that such a statement, coming from a leading Republican presidential contender, carries particular weight in light of Gingrich's hawkish credentials, and may suggest that the American people now view Pollard's release as just.
According to the group, dozens of former U.S. officials have recently asked President Barack Obama to commute Pollard's sentence and have gone so far as writing the president to tell him that his continued imprisonment runs contrary to the ideals of U.S. justice and values. The officials also stressed that most spies convicted of performing espionage for non-enemy states have served significantly shorter sentences.
"The growing support for his release is encouraging but Jonathan is suffering from very poor health," a spokesperson for the committee said Thursday. "We hope that President Obama releases him before it is too late."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Bill Clinton to pardon Pollard during the negotiations on the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, only to be vetoed by the U.S. CIA director, who was outraged by the prospect of Pollard walking free. Netanyahu also sent a personal request for Pollard's release to Obama, and other high ranking officials in the governments of both countries have made similar requests. Even after Pollard's father, Dr. Morris Pollard, passed away in June, Pollard was not allowed to attend his funeral.
The New York Times reported in October that Obama considered pardoning Pollard but was blocked by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has since qualified his positions, and reportedly told Jewish leaders that he is willing to reconsider his long-standing objection to having Pollard freed.
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