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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Advisers Call For Pope's Freedom

A presidential commission advised Vladimir Putin on Friday to pardon U.S. businessman Edmond Pope and spare him from a 20-year sentence for spying.

Pardons commission members spoke out decisively against Pope's conviction — and what they called "spy mania" driving the country's security services — as a relic of the Cold War, out of line with post-Soviet Russia.

President Bill Clinton called President Vladimir Putin to urge him to follow the recommendation of the commission and quickly pardon Pope.

Pope's wife, who has feared her husband could die if his bone cancer returned, was said to be encouraged but would not be completely happy until Pope was free. She was denied an immediate request to see her husband Friday.

Pardons commission head Anatoly Pristavkin told reporters the decision to recommend Pope's pardon was unanimous.

"We did not judge the ruling of the court. We made our conclusion on humanitarian grounds," he told reporters invited into the commission's chamber after its discussions. "Pope is a sick man. He is a man who has suffered a great deal. He is a citizen of America who can be united with his family, to see his dying father, and should be freed. I hope that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will heed our words."

Other members of the commission — made up of leading writers, clerics and other cultural figures — went further, issuing fierce criticism of the process itself.

Commission member Maria Chudakova said the trial had shown that "the investigative organs in our country still bear the marks of the Soviet system, more so than society in general."

Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said Pope could be home for Christmas.

"I watched proceedings on television and I decided that this demonstrates spy mania, which we all know about," she said. "I hope the president understands our decision."

The decision on whether to issue the pardon is still Putin's to make alone, but he has accepted the commission's advice in the past and indicated before Pope's conviction that he might consider a pardon on health grounds.

Commission members said their recommendation would reach Putin on Friday, but the president could not act on it for seven days, when Pope's sentence comes into effect. (See Editorial, Page 6.)

White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Clinton called Putin and spoke with him for about 10 minutes.

"[Clinton] urged President Putin to release Edmund Pope on humanitarian grounds," Siewert said.

Siewert would not characterize Putin's response to Clinton's request, saying only, "We're hopeful they'll release him. We're going to keep working on it."

Sergei Ivanov, the secretary of the president's influential Security Council, said Pope could be home for Christmas.

Pope was accused of buying secrets about a high-speed torpedo. He denied spying, saying he was only a businessman trying to obtain material already openly available.

Commission members had photocopies of a single, handwritten page Pope wrote from his jail cell to Putin in the Kremlin, pleading "to be released from prison to return to my family in Pennsylvania and receive health care.

"I request this release to be as soon as possible as my father is terminally ill and I wish to visit him one last time," Pope wrote. He signed the plea: "With Respect."

Jennifer Bennett, a spokeswoman for U.S. Congressman John Peterson, who has accompanied Pope's wife to Moscow, said Cheri Pope was relieved.

"She is encouraged but she will not be completely happy until she has her husband in her arms," Bennett said.

Cheri Pope had held her husband's hands through the bars of the defendant's cage in court on Wednesday as the verdict was read.

Pardons' commission member Mark Razovsky, a theater director, said clemency would be a move toward reconciliation.

"This is a step away from the Cold War. It is a policy of warm hearts," he said. "Pope is not Gary Powers. We should understand that the idea of spying and spy mania has changed."