Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle lobbied White House counsel and President Bush personally on behalf of border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean in a series of phone calls and face-to-face conversations that continued through the 11th hour of the administration, WND has learned.
A key meeting in the lobbying effort leading up to President Bush’s decision to commute the sentences was an hour-long phone conversation Jan. 9 orchestrated by Rep Steve King, R-Iowa.
The conference call included Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who was recruited by King because of his extensive career as a judge and prosecutor in Texas.
Participating for the White House were Kenneth Lee, legal counsel assigned to review recommendations from the Department of Justice Pardon Attorney, and Jeff Lungren, special assistant to the president.
Ramos and Compean have been in solitary confinement in federal prison since Jan. 17, 2007, serving 11 and 12 years respectively for a 2005 incident in Fabens, Texas, during in which they fired on a drug smuggler as he fled back into Mexico after bringing 750 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. near Fabens, Texas.
King and Poe argued the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence Ramos and Compean were given under U.S. Code Section 924 (c) was severe.
WND has learned a key final-hours strategy coordinated by many of Ramos and Compean’s congressional supporters was to defuse attacks on Johnny Sutton, the El Paso U.S. Attorney whose office conducted the prosecution. The lawmakers, instead, focused attention instead on the unfair nature of the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Last week, 31 of the 34 current members of the Texas congressional delegation, including both senators, sent a letter to President Bush asking for him to commute the prison sentences.
As WND reported last week, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., issued a press statement detailing several statements in which Sutton himself expressed concerns that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence was severe. The trial prosecutor in Sutton’s office, Debra Kanof, decided to charge Ramos and Compean under 924 (c) after the agents rejected her plea bargaining offers.
Sutton served as the criminal justice policy director for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush from 1995 to 2000.
USC Section 924(c) imposes a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for the use of a firearm in the commission of a federal crime, a statute Ramos and Compean have argued on appeal was never intended to be applied to law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties.
“We asked the White House for a commutation because Ramos and Compean have now served two years and the prosecution in plea bargaining had originally asked for a one-year sentence for Ramos and a two-year sentence for Compean, if they would plead guilty,” Poe explained to WND. “Ramos has now served twice that time, and Compean has served his two years.”
“We argued with the White House counsel that if the president disregarded the gun charge under 924 (c), then Ramos and Compean have already served more than enough time,” Poe said.
“Without the gun charge, Ramos and Compean would have gotten one- and two-year sentences, not the 11- and 12-year sentences they got. So we wanted their sentences commuted.”
King confirmed to WND that he asked Poe to join him on his phone call to White House legal counsel.
“I didn’t want to see the Bush administration end and have to look back and think that I could have done something more or to think that I had never talked to the White House pardons counsel directly about Ramos and Compean,” King told WND. “So I bypassed the idea of somebody else doing this and I thought, ‘Well, I will.’
“I looked for Judge Poe to join me in the call,” King said. “Congressman Poe thought it was a good idea, so away we went.”
King told WND that he had a hard time knowing last week if he and Poe had made any impact on Lee in their conversation with the White House.
“I didn’t know if we had hit any pay dirt with that conversation,” King admitted, “but I thought it was a conversation that had to happen.”
King recalled he and Poe emphasized to Lee that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence imposed on Ramos and Compean was unfair.
“I just hammered the point home that President Bush came into the national arena as a compassionate conservative and compassion demanded Ramos and Compean be free,” he said. “The punishment was out of proportion to the crimes Ramos and Compean were convicted for committing.
King emphasized Ramos and Compean “were acting in their best judgment on the day of the incident, in reaction to a stressful, dangerous situation.”
“If you have fellow officers who are watching their fellow officers being locked up in federal prison for 11 and 12 years as a result of pulling and using their service weapons in the course of doing their jobs, then that means that some day, some time, some officer leaves that weapon in their holster and it may cost them their lives,” he said.
As a historical note, in the last speech given in the House of Representatives during the Bush administration, Poe spoke last Friday for 40 minutes asking President Bush to commute the Ramos-Compean sentences.
A text of the speech and a video are available on Poe’s congressional website.
“It’s ironic, I spoke last Friday night, and I was the last congressman to speak on the House floor in the Bush presidency, and I spoke for 40 minutes asking the president to commute the Ramos and Compean sentences,” Poe commented. “So, in what is virtually the last act of the Bush presidency, he has now commuted the sentences. I’m glad.
“I have spent most of my life as a prosecutor and judge putting people in the penitentiary,” Poe told WND. “I’ve never been so pleased to see two people released from the penitentiary as Ramos and Compean.”
Yesterday, the last full day of the Bush administration, many congressman who had fought to see Ramos and Compean free issued statements sharing Poe’s enthusiasm for Bush’s decision.
“Our prayers have been answered!” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement. “This is not just a day of celebration for the families, but it is a victory for all Americans.
“We are grateful at long last that President Bush has done the right thing by these men and their families and the president should be included in our prayers of gratitude,” Rohrabacher said. “I am humbled by the sincerity of support I saw over the last two and a half years for Ramos and Compean from both sides of the political aisle and everyday Americans throughout our country.”
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, was equally pleased at the news.
“I am thrilled that President George W. Bush took the opportunity, on his last full day in office, to commute the sentences of wrongly imprisoned Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean,” Culberson said in a statement.
“This long overdue commutation is a blessing to the agents and their families, and it will instantly improve the morale of our Border Patrol, which will help make our nation more secure,” Culberson said.
The drug smuggler in the case, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, is currently serving a nine-and-a half year sentence in federal prison for bringing a second load of approximately 750 pounds of marijuana across the border in 2005 while he had immunity from Sutton for testifying against the officers.
In a controversial ruling, Ramos and Compean trial judge U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone denied the agents’ motion to question Aldrete-Davila about the second load of drugs. Aldrete-Davila was allowed to testify at trial that he was an inexperienced drug dealer who only committed the offense involving Ramos and Compean because his mother was sick and needed medicine he could not afford because he had lost his Mexican commercial drivers license.
WND previously reported Aldrete-Davila lied at trial. He actually had a valid Mexican drivers license the day he committed the offense involving Ramos and Compean.