Two California congressmen, one of whom introduced legislation this year calling for a congressional pardon for two U.S. Border Patrol agents, say that if President Bush can commute the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, he can order pardons for the agents.
"If the president of the United States is going to commute the sentence of Scooter Libby, he should immediately accompany that with a pardon for Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and 2008 presidential candidate.
"If Scooter Libby is going to receive this treatment, and there very well could be a compelling reason for the president's actions, agents Compean and Ramos should then be provided a full pardon," said Mr. Hunter, whose bill has 100 co-sponsors. "Mr. President, pardon our Border Patrolmen."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said Libby was convicted of obstructing the investigation of a crime, "yet no one has been charged with a crime" in the case. However, Mr. Rohrabacher said, while Mr. Bush rightly showed mercy to Libby, he "does not seem to have the same mercy for the average men and women holding the front lines of our borders.
"Unjustly imprisoned Border Agents Ramos and Compean, who are currently languishing in solitary confinement for 11 and 12 years for stopping an illegal drug smuggler and not filing the proper paperwork, deserve the same mercy afforded to Mr. Libby," he said.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush commuted Libby's 30-month sentence in his conviction on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and grand jury in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Today he refused to rule out an eventual pardon for the former White House aide.
Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, were sentenced in October in federal court in El Paso to 11- and 12-year prison terms, respectively, on charges of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation.
The two agents shot drug-smuggling suspect Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national, in the buttocks as he fled back into Mexico after refusing their orders to halt and abandoning his van along the Rio Grande with 743 pounds of marijuana inside.
In January, Mr. Bush told reporters in Texas he would review the case, but he has been silent on the matter since then.
"The Border Patrol or law enforcement have no stronger supporter than me," Mr. Bush said in an interview with an El Paso TV station. "There are standards that need to be met in law enforcement, and according to a jury of their peers, these officers violated some standards."
Robert S. Bonner, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection who helped organize the agency in 2003 as a part of the Department of Homeland Security, has called the lengthy prison sentences "too severe."
Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge and prosecutor, is the highest-ranking current or former Homeland Security official to publicly criticize the prosecution and conviction of the agents. In an interview, he said, "I hope that they will be substantially reduced."
More than 50 members of Congress have asked Mr. Bush to pardon or commute the sentences of the two agents, calling the prison sentences "a travesty of justice."
In his note today, Mr. Rohrabacher also made a veiled political threat if Mr. Bush does not issue a pardon or commutation for the agents.
"Their punishment, like Scooter Libby's would have been, is excessive and undeserved," he said. "If the president doesn't show mercy for them, we shouldn't show mercy for him."
Leaders of the Border Patrol's rank-and-file agents unanimously voted a no-confidence resolution against Chief David V. Aguilar, citing his willingness to believe the "perjured allegations" of criminal aliens over the words of his own agents. The no-confidence resolution was approved by all 100 leaders of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC).
Aldrete-Davila, located in Mexico by Homeland Security investigators, was returned to this country under a grant of immunity to testify against the agents. The immunity protected him from being charged with drug smuggling.
"Agents Compean and Ramos fulfilled their responsibilities as Border Patrol agents and rightfully pursued a suspected and fleeing drug smuggler. It is irresponsible to punish them with jail time," Mr. Hunter said.