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Feb. 18, 2007

Republican Poe helped elevate border agents' case
Congressman from Humble says 2 ex-border agents got bad rap

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON Flip on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight show these days and chances are pretty good you'll see Texas Congressman Ted Poe lamenting the fate of two ex-Border Patrol agents imprisoned for shooting a Mexican drug trafficker.

For months, the Republican from Humble has relentlessly championed the agents' case on cable-TV shows and behind the scenes, helping foment public outrage directed at the White House and President Bush's appointees in the Justice and Homeland Security departments.

Poe, who spent 22 years as a hard-nosed criminal court judge in Houston and eight years before that as a Harris County prosecutor, seems an unlikely choice to be carrying the banner for two convicts.

"It surprises some that I am seen to be on the side of the defendants," Poe acknowledged in an interview.

But the lawmaker, in his second term, said his stance stems directly from his experiences on the bench and at the prosecution table.

"I know the power of the prosecution and how powerful they are," said Poe, who argues that the Justice Department went to extraordinary lengths to prosecute ex-agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos for wounding the drug trafficker in a 2005 border altercation.

Though the two men were duly convicted in a jury trial in El Paso, Poe contends the game was rigged against the defendants because of "back-room deals" given by the prosecution to get the trafficker and other involved Border Patrol agents to testify. He also questions whether information was withheld from the jury.

And Poe is uneasy about what he views as Mexican interference into the case, citing letters written by Mexican consular officials seeking prosecution.

Asked whether he ever worries that he may be defending rogue officers, which is what prosecutors insist Ramos and Compean were, Poe expresses no uncertainty.

"They are not rogue border agents," he said.

But Poe also has no patience with fellow conservatives whose rhetoric has soared to broach the possibility of impeachment of Bush if either of the ex-agents is killed in prison. Ramos was attacked by six inmates at his Mississippi prison recently after they saw his case air on TV.

"That's an absurd answer," Poe said of the impeachment talk.