White House spokesman Tony Snow

WASHINGTON – Amid growing criticism from congressmen and activists of its handling of the prosecution of two Border Patrol agents, the White House is opening up a line of communication with lawmakers and promises it will review a transcript of the trial.

During a telephone interview today with WND, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., received a call from press secretary Tony Snow, inviting him to meet for a friendly, unofficial discussion about the case.

Meanwhile, Snow explained to WND the White House’s current stance in a brief interview Sunday.

“What we’re doing is getting the entire trial transcript so everybody can see what happened in trial, and we can try to discern the real facts of the case,” Snow told WND after a luncheon address at National Review’s Conservative Summit in Washington.

He insisted the development does not represent a shift in how the White House is approaching the case.

“I think what’s happened is a lot of people have differing accounts of this, and the best way to resolve them is not by having people scream at each other but by finding out what the fact record is, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Snow.

Rohrabacher said, however, he has no doubt this is a response to pressure – including campaigns for a pardon and House resolutions to throw out the case – noting that previously the president and his senior staff would not return phone calls from him and other senior congressmen.

“The very fact that they are now willing to look at this case is indication of some progress,” Rohrabacher told WND. “However, if they don’t do an honest assessment – for political reasons, or for ego reasons or for reasons of friendship with the prosecutor – then it doesn’t make any difference if they take a second look, or a first look at the facts.”

Rohrabacher characterized his planned meeting with Snow as a “conversation between two old friends.”

“It’s not a formal negotiation but an opening up of communications,” he said.

The California congressman, along with several Republican colleagues, has been sharply critical of the administration’s handling of the prosecution of former border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who began prison sentences Jan. 17, of 11 and 12 years respectively, for their actions in the shooting and wounding of a Mexican drug smuggler who was granted full immunity to testify against them.

Rohrabacher previously told WND he considered the president’s handling of the case “disgraceful.”

“This is the worst betrayal of American defenders I have ever seen,” Rohrabacher told WND, referring to the president. “It’s shameful this was done by someone who is in the Republican Party. He obviously thinks more about his agreements with Mexico than the lives of American people and backing up his defenders.”

Problems with transcript

Snow told Rohrabacher the White House is trying to get a copy of the transcript as soon as possible, but there have been obstacles.

The main problem, according to Rohrabacher, is with the transcript’s accuracy, because the court reporter apparently “wasn’t up to the challenge the case presented.”

The congressman could provide no further details, only that “they’re working on” difficulties with the transcript. He contended, however, the administration has enough of the facts to make a decision now.

“The president shouldn’t have to go to the transcript to see that, on the face of it, this prosecution makes no sense,” Rohrabacher said. “You’ve got a professional drug dealer who was a mule for the cartels, and the prosecutor has been taking that person’s side and his word.”

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton defended his prosecution in an interview with WND.

The White House press office was asked today to answer follow-up questions but has not responded.

A staunch defender of Ramos and Compean, TJ Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told WND he has seen snippets of the transcript and contends there are problems with the prosecution’s case.

“I’m anxious to see the transcript, because I’m not afraid to see what will be revealed,” he said. “Once people find out the truth, they will be even more outraged that the government pursued the case, knowing what they know.”

Making the case

The White House this month appealed to some of its more vocal critics on the border-agent issue, including Phyllis Schlafly. The long-time activist and syndicated columnist wrote a column arguing “President Bush pardoned 16 criminals, including five drug dealers, at Christmastime, but so far has refused to pardon two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were trying to defend America against drug smugglers.”

Schlafly told WND she received a call Jan. 8 from U.S. Attorney Sutton.

“He tried to make his case, and he was completely unpersuasive,” she said.

Schlafly called Snow’s effort to acquire the transcript and lay out the facts a “stall.”

“We’ve looked at the facts, and the facts are it’s an outrage,” said Schlafly, founder of the family activist group Eagle Forum. “The bottom line is the drug smuggler was given immunity and went Scot free, and two border guards went to prison for 11 and 12 years.”

Jessica Echard, executive director of Eagle Forum’s Capitol Hill office, told WND she has received phone messages in the past week from Sutton, who said he was calling by request of Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Echard said the White House “clearly is getting pressure from grass-roots Americans.”

“They are obviously trying to put out a lot of fires,” she said. “But we’re going to be asking a lot of questions and trying to find out what happened.”

Rohrabacher said that while such positive attempts to establish communication have been made, “on the negative side,” the White House is “going through its natural allies, which believe in open borders.”

He referred to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal Friday, which he called a “character assassination” of Compean and Ramos.


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