President Bush at Nashville forum yesterday (White House photo)
Questioned by an audience member at a forum, President Bush said he could not promise to pardon former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.
“I’m not going to make that kind of promise in a forum like this,” Bush said at the Nashville event yesterday, which focused on his budget.
Bush referred to the U.S. attorney responsible for the case, Johnny Sutton, as “a dear friend of mine” and called him a “fair guy” and “even-handed,” according to a White House transcript.
The president elicited laughter when he told the questioner, “You’ve got a nice smile, but you can’t entice me into making a public statement.”
“I know this is an emotional issue, but people need to look at the facts,” Bush said. “These men were convicted by a jury of their peers after listening to the facts as my friend, Johnny Sutton, presented them. But anyway, no, I won’t make you that promise.”
Ramos and Compean are serving 11- and 12-year prison sentences, respectively, after a jury convicted them last year of violating federal gun laws and covering up the shooting of a drug smuggler as he fled back to Mexico after driving across the border with 742 pounds of marijuana. Sutton’s office gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, immunity to serve as the government’s star witness and testify against the border agents.
As WND reported, after a Senate hearing Tuesday, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked Bush to commute the sentences, saying “it became very clear the sentences did not match the crime.”
Feinstein concluded the hearing with a vow to look further into why prosecutors charged the men under section 924(c) of the U.S. code, which requires a 10-year sentence for using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.
Feinstein, during questioning of Sutton, argued the statute did not apply to Ramos and Compean in their pursuit of a drug smuggler at the Mexican border, because there was no underlying crime.
The senators called use of the statute in the case “prosecutorial overreach.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. – who will chair a similar hearing in the House July 31 – told WND he believed the Senate session helped revive flagging interest in the case as Ramos and Compean passed 180 days of imprisonment while awaiting their appeals.
He would prefer a pardon, but said he was pleased Feinstein was taking action and found it ironic a “liberal Democrat” would do more than some “squishy Republican senators.”
“I was gratified and just overwhelmed with admiration for Sen. Feinstein, that she definitely is taking this issue seriously and decided she is going to step up and fight for these little guys that are being squashed,” Rohrabacher told WND.
Many supporters of Ramos and Compean have argued that if the president could pardon or commute the sentence of former White House aide “Scooter” Libby, he should show mercy to border agents who were prosecuted while a drug smuggler went free. The president commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence earlier this month.
Rohrabacher told WND Sutton has refused to testify at the July 31 hearing of the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The congressman will examine alleged involvement of the Mexican government in the decision to prosecute the agents and others, including Texas Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez. Sutton’s Western District of Texas office also prosecuted Hernandez, who was convicted of violating the civil rights of two illegal aliens injured from shell fragments that struck them as the officer shot at the tires of a van in which they escaped from a routine traffic stop. The van driver had tried to run over Hernandez.
In his prepared testimony Tuesday, Sutton acknowledged the case had been “the subject of widespread media attention and heated debate.”
He insisted that since the convictions, “it has been clear that some individuals do not understand the facts of the case, while others are merely concerned with using it to make a point about some other issue, such as illegal immigration.”
Sutton said he wanted to use the hearing to “set the record straight by discussing the ample facts already in the public record, but I will be limited to discussing only information in the public record.”
After recounting the prosecution’s view of the case, he concluded: “The prosecution of Compean and Ramos was about our commitment to the rule of law and about two former law enforcement officers who committed serious crimes. An honest reading of the facts of this case shows that Compean and Ramos deliberately shot at an unarmed man in the back without justification, destroyed evidence to cover it up, and lied about it. A jury heard the facts and voted to convict. Faithfulness to the rule of law required me to bring this case.”