Press Conference with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
REP. ROHRABACHER: We will proceed in this manner. I will -- I am, for the record, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from the 46th Congressional District. And I will just start off with it just in a couple minutes and -- followed by Mr. Delahunt, who -- I'm not sure what district is -- we'll all introduce ourselves individually, and -- to get our -- make sure we're getting our districts straight. And then we will open up for questions. My opening statement will only be a couple minutes, and then we will proceed from there. So we will begin.
I am Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from the 46th Congressional District of California. That's Huntington Beach, California.
I have today in my hands a letter that we will be sending to the pardon attorney at the Department of Justice. This letter is pleading the case of Ramos and Compean, the two Border Patrol agents who we believe were unjustly prosecuted in the first place, but now, at the very least, at the tail end of the Bush administration, we should see this president granting a commutation of the sentences of these two Border Patrol agents. So we are asking the pardon attorney at the Department of Justice to recommend that to the president of the United States.
These men have been basically in torture for two years, in that they have been living in solitary confinement for a crime they should never have been prosecuted for in the first place. If there is any compassion on the part of this president and this administration, let them -- at the very end, without even having to admit a mistake was made in this case, let them free Ramos and Compean; give a Christmas present not only to the families of these men, but also to the rest of the United States, who are heartsick at seeing the two of these men, who have risked their lives for us for 15 and -- 10 and 15 years, that they ended up being incarcerated while trying to stop a drug dealer from illegally coming into our country.
So this would set our country at rest in so many ways and be such a wonderful gift to the families, but also would be doing the right thing. And so we're pleading with the president, through the pardon attorney at the office of the Department of Justice, to move forward on this case and don't leave -- don't leave the White House without having done justice and to show some compassion to these two Border Patrol agents.
REP. DELAHUNT: Thank you, Dana.
My name is Bill Delahunt. I'm a member of Congress from Massachusetts. I'm a Democrat. And I would obviously echo the sentiments articulated by my friend and colleague from California.
I think it's important to understand that this particular sentence, in and of itself, is an injustice. If the American justice system is to maintain the confidence of the American people, it has to be proportionate in terms of the punishment that is meted out.
These men are serving 11 and 12 years, respectfully -- respectively, rather.
When one examines the existing data for other crimes, evidence of the disproportionate nature of this sentence becomes more clear. Let me provide you some statistics.
For manslaughter, which clearly involves death of a victim, the average federal sentence is less than four years. Just imagine that, four years compared to 11 and 12 years. And I also think it's important to understand that the mandatory sentence, the charge that carried that particular sentence, was as a result of an indictment that came from a grand jury subsequent to the initial charges that were filed against these two men.
Oftentimes that's done to compel a plea. And I'm confident that there were plea negotiations that were conducted, between counsel for the defendants and the Department of Justice, that most likely involved a much less significant sentence of incarceration. But prosecutors do that. I want you to know that in 22 years, as the elected district attorney in the metropolitan Boston area, I never did that because I was interested in fairness.
This sentence is so disproportionate that it erodes the confidence and the respect for the rule of law in this country. And let's remember too that the job of the Border Patrol agents is an extremely dangerous and difficult one. They are operating in what is aptly described as a war zone.
In less than 30 months, from February 1st of 2005 to July 1st of 2007, there were almost 2,000 assaults on Border Patrol agents.
What does this sentence tell the brave men and women who serve as Border Patrol agents? Let's examine the totality of the circumstance, and let's do justice. Let's do justice. And this is an opportunity for this White House and this administration to help restore confidence in the American justice system by commuting the sentences of these two men to time served.
I want to add one more fact. There was a resolution that was sponsored by members on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, Irish from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts --
REP. ROHRABACHER: Surfers from California. (Laughter.)
REP. DELAHUNT: -- surfers from California, and leading members of the Hispanic Caucus. And they represent different and, in some cases, conflicting views on the immigration issue. But unanimously they agree with the recommendation that we are making here today, because they too recognize that an injustice has been done.
REP. POE: My name is Ted Poe. I represent the 2nd Congressional District of Texas. As a former judge for 22 years, as my friend Bill Delahunt was a district attorney for 22 years, it was my goal to make sure that justice occurred in every case. Sort of had the reputation of being a hard-nosed hard-liner as a judge. I don't like criminals, especially those that commit serious crimes.
But justice demands that the right thing be done for the right reason in all cases. And I've looked at this case, I've read the transcript, and in my opinion, both of these Border Patrol agents got a bad deal.
It appears now that they are political prisoners incarcerated in the federal penitentiary for just doing their job on the Texas-Mexico border, a violent border where they tried to protect us from the infiltration of the drug smugglers and the coyotes.
This time of year, it's traditional at the White House that the president pardon individuals. The first pardon usually takes place the week of Thanksgiving, and it's not an individual but it's a turkey that gets pardoned from being executed, so to speak, and being served on the plates of Americans. I would think it is appropriate that if the president is concerned about pardoning turkeys that he should be concerned about commuting the sentences of two Border Patrol agents.
And if he doesn't do that next week, hopefully before the Christmas season is over with, which is the second traditional time of the year where the president pardons individuals, that he commute the sentence of Ramos and Compean, who have now served almost two years confinement in the federal penitentiary for being the border protectors of the rest of us.
It's interesting to note that the House has taken action on these two individuals before. Last year, the House voted on a voice vote unanimously not to allow federal funds to be used to incarcerate these two individuals; passed the House unanimously. Unfortunately, that bill was never brought before the Senate and the Senate never acted on it. That gives the country a sense of what the United States House of Representatives thinks about the incarceration of these two individuals.
It is time for them to be released. It sends a signal to a lot of folks. It tells our border protectors that we will be on your side of the war -- the border war, rather than being on the other side, which it appears to be with the incarceration of these two individuals. But it also tells the drug smugglers and the violent people that wish to come into the United States to commit crimes that our federal government is on the side of the border protectors, not on the side of drug dealers who commit crimes, even while we as a country have given them immunity and flagrantly violate that immunity by continuing to bring drugs into the case -- into this country, as took place in this particular case.
So I would hope the president, when he pardons a turkey next week, he pardons two individuals who are serving time, in our federal penitentiary, by the name of Ramos and Compean.
REP. CULBERSON: I want to particularly thank Chairman Delahunt, as chairman of the subcommittee of jurisdiction, on the Judiciary Committee, and all of my colleagues for joining us here today.
The relevance of the announcement today is another indication of the bipartisan support, in the House of Representatives, asking the president of the United States to commute the sentences of Ramos and Compean. We all understand what our constituents and people really across the country get.
No matter where you're from, from Massachusetts to California, everyone in the United States understands, it's wrong for the police officers to go to jail for doing their job, shooting a drug dealer carrying a million dollars worth of dope into the United States. And the police officers go to jail for over 10 years. And the drug dealer gets a Get Out of Jail Free card, in fact, a border pass which he used repeatedly to smuggle more drugs into the United States.
This case is one of the most grotesque injustices that we have ever seen. It's a terrible miscarriage of justice for these agents. It is a terrible message to send, to our Border Patrol agents, that demoralizes them and discourages them from doing their job.
This case has become something that's so well known, across the country, that I even had a cab driver once in Tennessee, who picked me up. And as soon as he found out I was a member of Congress, the first question he asked me is, what are you doing to get Ramos and Compean out of prison?
This is in my opinion, I think, one of the -- one thing that President Bush could do, as he leaves office, that would be a great signal to the country, to the Border Patrol, to our men and women in uniform, across the United States, that the president appreciates the work that our men and women in uniform do, that he understands that an injustice was done, in this case; that the president recognizes, as he did in the case of Scooter Libby, that the sentence does not fit the crime, and that these two men have suffered enough already and that they deserve a commutation.
So we're formally today presenting this letter, to the proper official at the Department of Justice, asking formally that the president commute their sentences.
We will also continue to work, in the Congress, on a resolution asking that their sentences be commuted.
We'll continue to work using every avenue and every tool at our disposal. We will never give up until these two Border Patrol agents are released from prison. It's the right thing to do. It's an important way to show our Border Patrol agents that we're proud of the work that they do and we want to support them. We recognize that there may be occasions where an officer who has abused their authority needs to be punished, but this punishment does not fit the circumstances of this crime.
In fact, as Chairman Delahunt quite correctly pointed out, a prosecutor has great discretion in the way they bring a case against a defendant. And in -- the law that Ramos and Compean were prosecuted under has been on the books since 1968. Using a crime -- using a gun in the commission of a crime has been against the law, under federal law, that -- Congress passed that law in 1968 and aimed it at violent criminals. It was never intended to be used against a police officer, who is, of course, required to carry a gun, licensed to carry a gun, as a part of their job description.
So the law was misapplied here. And I -- in my personal opinion, I think these agents are being prosecuted in an effort to pander to Mexico, to placate public opinion in Mexico, which is outrageous and unacceptable. The border is so violent today -- Judge Poe told me once -- Judge, what are the numbers? Number of deaths along the border in a period of time? You told me compared to the war in Iraq, there's this incredible number.
REP. POE: Five times the number.
REP. CULBERSON: There are five -- and what period -- over what period of time?
REP. POE: One year.
REP. CULBERSON: In one year, more people have been killed along the southern border of the United States than have been killed in a year -- five times more -- than have been killed in Iraq of U.S. troops. And our men and women in uniform around the world, we're immensely proud of the job they do; they are truly in the front lines of the war on terror.
But let's not forget our men and women in uniform here in the United States -- our police officers on the streets of our cities and, even more importantly, those officers on the border -- those Border Patrol agents who put their lives on the line every day, every night, against infinite money, against determined criminals who are carrying heavy weapons -- high-powered weapons, satellite phones, with infinite money. We owe our Border Patrol agents a great deal. And I think the president would send them all a great signal and do a great thing for the country and for these two agents. And we urge the president to commute their sentences and do so for this holiday season.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA): I'm Congressman Ed Royce from Orange County.
And I just want to commend Chairman Delahunt and Congressman Rohrabacher for their efforts here, because I think all of us know, especially in light of the new information as of Wednesday, when the drug dealer received a sentence in federal penitentiary of nine and a half years, we are now cognizant of the fact that the case originally presented to the jury was built on duplicity.
And as Chairman Delahunt has explained, this attempt to get a plea bargain and this rather original device of using something in the law originally intended for criminals who commit a -- who use a gun in the commission of a crime -- to use that in order to go to these police officers -- these Border Patrol agents and say, "We want you to plea bargain" -- the reason they wouldn't plea bargain -- the reason they wouldn't plea bargain -- is because they believe they're innocent.
The reason they wouldn't take the deal and the reason they got stuck with 12 years is because they're convinced that in the hand of the perpetrator here, of the drug smuggler, they saw something shiny which they believed was a handgun. Now, the mother and the sister of the drug smuggler both say he would never carry drugs without carrying a weapon on him.
Now, what compounds this -- I had chaired some hearings down in -- on the Texas border and on the California border with respect to some of the problems on the border. Border Patrol agents and sheriffs told me that the cartels, when they send these employees, like the one we're talking about, out across the border, they carry with them -- they are heavily armed, more heavily armed -- more heavily armed -- than the Border Patrol agents themselves.
It's so pervasive that there have been -- well, Chairman Delahunt gave you the number of attacks on Border Patrol agents that have occurred over a 30-month period. So clearly, in the minds of the Border Patrol agent, in a situation like that, where they believe someone's holding a gun -- you know, that's why they would not plea bargain.
But the jury was prevented from finding the -- getting this information. The jury was told, well, they couldn't have known about the drugs in the van; they couldn't have known, the Border Patrol agents couldn't have known. And the jury was not told that unlimited visas had been granted -- had been granted -- to the drug smuggler so he could come in and out of the United States; and that, in addition, he'd been subsequently detained for carrying more drugs.
But basically, he was given a pass, as long as he was willing to come. And now that the deal had been -- had been rejected, because they said, "We're innocent," well, by God, then you're going to serve that 11 or 12 years for not accepting that deal.
Now, how is we (sic) as Americans supposed to feel? You know, Senator Feinstein made the comment about the chilling effect that this case would have on our Border Patrol agents. This is not just wrong. The duplicity involved here is what brings us out today to say it is time that justice here be done. These men have served time. Let's get past this. Let's -- let's take action.
And again, my hat's off to the chairman of this committee for the steps he's taken, and to Dana Rohrabacher. But I must tell you, after talking to so many agents down on the border over the last couple of years about their feelings about this case, and so many -- so many individuals. And we all know people who've been wrongly convicted of crime. We all know individuals. This is a miscarriage of justice. It has to be rectified.
REP. KING: I'm Congressman Steve King, Iowa's 5th Congressional District. And I'm here to second and third everything that's been said about Ramos and Compean and plead with the president to commute the sentences of those two brave Border Patrol Officers.
They were down there in a line of duty, in the line of fire. And the decision came down to this: Did they believe that the drug smuggler had a gun? If so, they didn't commit a crime in firing at an individual who was breaking the law, that had a gun.
Is there a reasonable doubt? I would say there is reasonable doubt. The jury made the decision that they made after they had been discredited. And the -- but the ability to discredit the witness, the drug smuggler, was locked from the jury because there was an agreement made with Johnny Sutton, the prosecutor, and the judge to keep the information about the drug-smuggling drug smuggler away from the jurors. So the measure of the credibility of the different witnesses was not balanced in the way that it should have been.
In any case, this is an unjust sentence. To think that 11 and 12 years for discharging a firearm while performing your duty -- and one bullet did strike the drug smuggler, and it proves that the drug smuggler was turned sideways in the posture that they testified -- that Ramos testified -- as if he were going to fire a gun.
And all the -- all the evidence out there says -- corroborates what was stated by Mr. Royce, that he wouldn't be carrying drugs into this country if he didn't have a gun.
And so I think when the president goes to pardon that Thanksgiving turkey -- if I were that turkey, I'd be a little worried right now. If he can't bring himself to pardon or commute the sentences of Ramos and Compean, I can't imagine that turkey's going to make it past that day.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Any questions?
Q (Off mike) -- have you made a commutation request before to the Office of the Pardon Attorney?
REP. ROHRABACHER: We have not. This is a request -- a(n) official request from the members of the House of Representatives and especially from Mr. Delahunt and myself. And we have not made that official request. All of our requests in the past have been basically offered to the White House, and we were appealing to the president's better judgment and perhaps compassionate nature. And we've received no -- there was nothing done.
And now we're trying this path to see if his -- the commutation attorney at the Department of Justice, who would recommend it to the president, would do so and that maybe the president would listen to him. We have not gone to them before.
Q I'm trying to get a sense of your strategy here, why you're trying this approach now, versus having tried this approach before.
REP. ROHRABACHER: We haven't done it before. And again, going directly to the president didn't work. And maybe the president will listen to someone within his own Justice Department if that person would offer that recommendation. So we are asking the person at the Department of Justice who oversees pardons and commutations to give this recommendation for a commutation.
Bill, did you want to --
REP. DELAHUNT: Yeah, I think -- and my friend and colleague from Texas whispered my ear -- that it's a procedural issue. It was a process. And the appeals court, obviously, has made its decision. The sentence is now final. And this is the appropriate moment in time to initiate the process to secure the action by the president. It goes internally through the Department of Justice.
I guess, I would say, I hope that President Bush listens carefully, not just to those of us that have spoken here today but to members of the prosecution team, including the deputy chief of the El Paso Sector, in terms of the Border Patrol's jurisdiction. Luis Barker agreed that the penalty that was received, by these two men, was disproportionate.
I hope that the president and the appropriate officials, in the Department of Justice, reach out and ask that individual. And I hope that they reach out to the U.S. attorney, Mr. Sutton, because Mr. Sutton said this, and I'm quoting him. These are his words. "Some say it's just too much time. And I have some sympathy for that." Well, I hope that the president has sympathy and understanding and finds a quantum of compassion and commutes these sentences.
At this particular time in our history, when times are tough, when we're faced with challenges, in many aspects of our national life, it's important to understand that there is a nation, and again from disparate quarters and different perspectives, that want this. It would certainly be a gift, not just to those of us that are involved, in this effort, but I think it's a gift to the American people.
Q (Off mike.)
REP. DELAHUNT: Well, again I think that the decision of the Appeals Court is there. I don't think that -- I can't believe that he is fully aware of the statements that I just quoted.
I think if he went and asked and inquired of the individuals involved in the prosecution, that they would say as we compare these sentences to other sentences meted out for such crimes as manslaughter, that there's something wrong here. It doesn't work. It just offends our sense of justice. And if America is about anything, it's about fairness and justice. And his action can address that by simply commuting these sentences and allowing these two individuals to return to their family.
And by the way, let me suggest this. You know, I cosponsored a bill with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. It's called the Justice for All Act. And it involved the use of DNA to exonerate people who were unjustly accused and unjustly convicted. Our legal system is a good system, but it's certainly not perfect. It's not perfect. And yes, innocent people are convicted and are sentenced unjustly. But when we have an opportunity to redress that injustice, we ought to take every opportunity to do it. Look how many people serve time on death row in capital cases, that because of DNA were exculpated, were exonerated.
In this case, from my perspective as a prosecutor -- let me just say this unequivocally -- I would not have brought this case in the first place, in the first instance. But a decision was made to do it. It was done, and now we have to deal with the situation as it currently exists.
Q What do you think would be fair in terms of -- (off mike)?
REP. ROHRABACHER: I think what would be fairer is that these men never have been prosecuted in the first place. What would have been fairer now is to get them out as soon as possible. What would have been fairer is, when Congress first brought this to the president's attention, that he paid -- that he did take that into consideration.
The president has had the legal ability to pardon these men just on his -- whenever he wanted to do so. He set up -- there are certain procedures that have been set up, but they are set up in a way that they -- that he can make a final decision whether to go through the procedures or not.
So these people -- men could have been pardoned a long time ago. Or maybe he could have called up his U.S. attorney and said, this doesn't smell right, don't do it, in terms of the prosecution.
So this all falls back to the president. And we're hoping, we are now asking -- today we are writing the person in the Department of Justice who then recommends to the president what the president should do, to suggest to the president the sentence be commuted. And we hope that this happens and the president pays attention. So -- but what would be fair was these guys should never have been imprisoned in the first place.
REP. KING: I want to add a word to that. And that is that the president will have dozens and dozens of requests for pardons and commutations of sentences before him between now and January 20th. And I would pose this question to the White House: Mr. President, if you can't find it in your heart to pardon or commute the sentences of Agents Ramos and Compean, how can you do so for any of those that will be on that list? I think that'll be a very difficult question for the president to answer between now and January 20th.
Q Mr. King and Rohrabacher, have you received any feedback from the White House at all on your request? A phone call, a letter, anything?
REP. ROHRABACHER: The feedback we've received is the most brutal communication of all, and that is a total communication of silence and disregard for the opinions of the members of Congress and the opinions of the American people.
This president has ignored repeated pleas from the House, from the Senate, from Dianne Feinstein and Bill Delahunt and the Dana Rohrabachers and all the others here who have been -- Ed Royce has gone right down to the border -- the American people. All of us have been pleading with this president, and there has been no response from this president whatsoever.
Should we think, then, that he doesn't care, that he is not the compassionate conservative that he portrayed himself to be? Well, he is defining himself for the rest of us.
REP. DELAHUNT: I think it's important to note, though, that there has been -- the president has not ruled this out. The president has not refused to commute their sentences.
The president has not refused to commute their sentences. And it's important to remember that in other administrations, right as they finish, particularly during the Christmas season -- a time of goodwill and forgiveness and celebration -- it's appropriate for presidents to make these commutations.
And the Bushes, we know, are decent, honorable, good people. I represent the president's parents proudly, the Bush family. I know everyone in America knows that the Bush family are decent, honorable, good people with good hearts. And we're appealing to the better angels of the Bush family, their -- the very best of their -- of their good natures, to do the right thing for the right reasons in this holiday season and commute the sentences of these two men because their sentence does not fit the crime and they have already suffered enough. They deserve to be freed for the same reason the president commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby.
Q Representative, what's -- if you don't get anywhere with President Bush -- what if he does not do anything? What's the next step --
REP. ROHRABACHER: If he doesn't?
Q -- going into the Obama administration? Would you have to refile the --
REP. ROHRABACHER: Yes, probably. Yeah. We -- Bill -- I can imagine that Bill and I will be active, as well as the rest of my colleagues with President Obama. And we would hope -- we would hope, however, that this president decides not to leave this mess behind him.
And I want to add one note. When we talk about Ramos and Compean -- I get kind of mad at this, obviously. And I -- and I do get rather tough on the president. And I'm very happy that my colleague offered a more gentle -- an analysis of the president.
REP. DELAHUNT: And I maintain my silence. (Laughter.)
REP. ROHRABACHER: But I hope people understand that what we're talking about is the total destruction not only of two men who were in the military prior to joining the Border Patrol, not only two men who had, for years and years, gone out every day knowing that they could take a bullet for us and -- to protect our families, but these are two men who are married men who have families.
And this has destroyed their families. This has destroyed two families of people who were out there protecting our families. I mean, they don't have health insurance. They don't -- their pensions are gone. Their families are in total disarray because they stopped some drug dealer at the border and were trying to do their job.
We will never give up on this. I will never give up and I know my colleagues won't either. And hopefully Bush can make it right by the time he leaves office, but we will continue this fight and we will never abandon these two men and their families.
Q (Off mike.) If I may, may I ask somebody else?
REP. : (Chuckles.) Somebody else, okay.
Q That's why I -- (off mike). It's about -- everyone is talking about immigration right now -- (off mike) -- Hong Kong. You are the chairman for -- (off mike), and now that you've -- (off mike) -- we can believe actually Congress may -- (off mike). What would happen to the chairmanship -- (off mike)?
REP. ROHRABACHER: There's a lot of change going on in -- in the Taiwan straits. And Taiwan has -- the people of Taiwan, through a democratic process, have charted a new course. And I'm sure that that will be reflected here in Washington, as to what the -- how active people are and what people will be involved in dealing with issues with Taiwan and the mainland of China.
It is not the way it was. When the people voted to go in another direction in Taiwan and not -- and to be more cooperative rather than confrontational with the mainland, they were setting a course that also changed the relationships here on the Hill. So I can't tell you how it's going to shake out. But now -- but during the next session of Congress, I think there are going to be different players involved and a whole different agenda, because the people of Taiwan have spoken through the Democratic process.
Q (Off mike) --
REP. ROHRABACHER: Thank you all very much. We -- I can see you afterwards if you want.
REP. : Thank you.
REP. : Thank you.