Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and William Delahunt, D-Mass.
House Republicans and Democrats rebuked U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton today for not appearing at a House subcommittee hearing into his office’s prosecution of former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.
“This case stinks to high heaven,” ranking member Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., declared in his opening statement.
The absence of Sutton and Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner – and an overall lack of cooperation from the Justice Department – will trigger additional oversight hearings demanding answers in the controversial case, said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of the subcommittee on Internal Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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 more than 700 pounds of marijuana. The office of El Paso U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, immunity to serve as the government’s star witness and testify against the border agents.
Delahunt pointed out the Justice Department decided Sutton could not testify despite the fact the prosecutor has been talking about the case on numerous radio and television shows across the nation.
“I can only conclude that this is one more example of arrogance on the part of the Department of Justice,” said Delahunt.
The Massachusetts Democrat reported to the committee that Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee have agreed to hold hearings prompted by the failure of Sutton and Skinner to appear.
Delahunt, a former Boston prosecutor, said that after reviewing the case, he has serious concerns about the verdicts and is certain the punishment does not fit the alleged crimes.
“Given the harsh, disproportionate, excessive sentences, justice was not done,” he said.
Delahunt said there was no need to charge the men under 18 U.S. Code 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.
Echoing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chaired a Senate hearing on the case earlier this month, Delahunt 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.
At the Senate hearing, Sutton provided examples of the statute being applied to law enforcement officers, but Delahunt asserted they have no relation to the Ramos-Compean case. One example was a policeman who raped a woman after a traffic stop.
“To make these comparisons in the case of Ramos and Compean are simply absurd on their face,” Delahunt said.
Delahunt said the law provides a remedy.
“I join with others who call on President Bush to commute the sentences of these two men,” he said.
Pointing to the president’s commutation of the 30-month sentence of former White House aide Scooter Libby, Delahunt said American citizens must wonder “at the disparity of treatment” between the two cases.
“I do hope that the president responds swiftly and exercises his constitutional prerogative, not just for the sake of these two men but for the sake of the criminal justice system,” Delahunt said.
Rohrabacher concluded with a similar appeal to Bush.
“We are just praying that Ramos and Compean as they languish in prison … as they are separated from their families with no source of income – men just trying to protect us – we hope that something touches the president’s heart,” he said.
Appearing for the State Department were Charles Shapiro, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere; and Gary Star, director of the diplomatic security service.
Shapiro limited his testimony to a narrow focus, claiming he was not able to find any communications between the State Department and the Mexican consulate involving the drug smuggler.
As WND reported, Rohrabacher last week released documentation Aldrete-Davila had been given six unconventional, unescorted border passes which he may have used to smuggle a second load of drugs into the U.S.
When questioned by Rohrabacher about other communications the Mexican consulate may have had concerning Aldrete-Davila with other agencies, such as DHS, Shapiro professed ignorance, admitting at one point, “I do not know what I do not know.”
The hearings were called after Rohrabacher expressed concern about potential foreign influence exerted by the Mexican consulate in the prosecution.
WND reported no criminal investigation of Ramos or Compean had begun until after the Mexican consulate complained the smuggler had his civil rights violated by being shot by Border Patrol agents in the U.S., neglecting to mention the illegal alien was smuggling drugs.
WND also reported Skinner admitted to a House committee under oath that DHS investigators “misrepresented” reports when claiming to the Texas congressional delegation that Ramos and Compean were “rogue cops” who wanted to “shoot a Mexican.”