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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.”

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Previous stories:

Feinstein to Bush: Free Ramos, Compean

Sutton grilled in Ramos-Compean hearing

After Libby, Bush pushed to pardon border agents

Gil Hernandez ‘fears for his life’

Ignacio Ramos reported in ‘emaciated’ condition

Border Patrol agent vindicated

Sheriff sees pattern in border agents’ cases

Feds seeking 7 years for another Texas cop

Justice urged to release Ramos-Compean documents

Records prompt call for new Ramos-Compean trial

Congressman: Bush ‘doesn’t give a damn’

Cop called ‘double agent’ in Ramos-Compean case

Ramos, Compean release on bond nixed

Border agents’ case inspires song

Feinstein still probing Ramos-Compean case

Judicial Watch seeks records in Ramos-Compean case

Sheriff: Deputy prosecuted by Mexico’s demand

Senate hearings on Ramos-Compean postponed

Smuggler’s 2nd drug case confirmed by accomplice

Ramos attorney calls for mistrial

Smuggler’s 2nd delivery of marijuana confirmed

Congressman: Probe Mexico’s role in prosecutions

Mexico demanded U.S. prosecute sheriff, agents

Discrepancies in case against Border Patrol unresolved

Compean reports reading half of Bible already

How cozy was Border Patrol with smuggler?

Border Patrol agents fired for changing testimonies

Drug smuggler left cell phone in van

Border-agent investigator had tie to smuggler

Author of DHS border-agent report lied to Congress

Officials urged to resign for lie about border agents

Government admits lying about jailed border agents

Imprisoned border agent did report shooting

Imprisoned border agent beaten by fellow inmates

Prosecutor had evidence against drug smuggler

Poe seeks ‘public’ documents on border agents

Prosecutor accused of hiding smuggler’s 2nd drug bust

Homeland Security memos contradict U.S. attorney

Uproar over border agents to get White House review

Feds ‘knew smuggler’ in Border Patrol case

Ballistics data don’t support charge against border agents

Funds set up for Border Patrol agents

Congressman: Feds stonewalling on border agents

Border agent’s wife at State of the Union

Revolt builds as Republicans seek to toss border agents’ convictions

Border Patrol agent held in solitary confinement

Imprisoned agent’s wife: President is a hypocrite

Border agents’ prosecutor responds to critics

Border agents sent to prison

Border agents plead for ‘Christmas pardon’

White House clarifies ‘nonsensical’ comment’

12 congressmen demand pardon for border agents

Snow says question on agents’ prison time ‘nonsensical’

Border Patrol agents sentenced to prison

National Guard units to be armed, close to the border

Gang expert backs Tancredo charge

National Guard units to be armed, close to the border

No militarization of U.S.-Mex border

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Chertoff downplays Mexican military incursions

‘Shoot illegals’ comment earns host FCC complaint

Another armed incursion on U.S.-Mexico border

Texas border standoff with Mexican military

Border Patrol warned: Brace for violence

Feds to border agents: Assassins targeting you

Armed standoff on Rio Grande

Border sheriff warns: We’re overwhelmed

Mexican drug commandos expand ops in 6 U.S. states

It’s war between cops in Mexico

The threat from Mexico

‘It’s a war’ along Mexican border

Mexican commandos seek control of border

Mexican commandos new threat on border

Border Patrol agents shot in Laredo

Mexicans shoot at Border Patrol

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