Editorial: Leave Gov. Ryan in jail, Durbin’s request ridiculous

Our View


Former Gov. George Ryan was federally indicted and convicted on federal fraud, racketeering and related corruption charges.


Sen. Dick Durbin’s request for President Bush to commute Ryan’s sentence must not be granted because criminals belong in jail.

Six children died in a blazing car crash in 1994. Their parents, Scott and Janet Willis, watched as the justice system did its job in discovering how the truck driver responsible for the accident illegally obtained a drivers license.

Consequently, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald convicted more than 35 people during a long-term pay-to-play (licenses-for-bribe) investigation of the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. One of the convicted was former Gov. George Ryan, but now Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is asking President George W. Bush to commute the federal prison sentence to time served as an act of compassion.

Ryan has served a little more than a year of his six and a half year sentence on federal fraud, racketeering and related corruption charges after being convicted by a jury in 2006. Releasing Ryan would demonstrate a failure of the judicial system, and reaffirm a belief that Bush is just as crooked as many of his ousted appointees.

Durbin hinted at such a recommendation to the president for several weeks and officially submitted a letter on Monday.

“For those who would argue that a commutation makes light of his crimes, it is clear that he has already paid a significant price and will continue to do so as long as he lives,” Durbin wrote to Bush. “Justice is a sword that should be tempered with compassion. Further imprisonment will not, in my opinion, serve the ends of justice.”

According to The Associated Press, Durbin said Ryan “has had much more than a slap on the wrist” by living with the “cloud of his conviction,” the loss of most of his pension benefits and being separated from his wife, who is in frail health.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president “Power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

The founding fathers had different intentions for the pardon than how it’s being used now. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, “in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the common wealth; and which, if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterwards to recall.”

The pardon power was used to mend fences with neighbors and bring unity to the nation. George Washington pardoned leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion, and Andrew Johnson pardoned Confederate soldiers following the Civil War. In modern times, Jimmy Carter pardoned those who had evaded service in the Vietnam War.

Controversial reprieves include Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon for his actions in Watergate and George Bush’s 1992 pardons of six Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra Affair.

One of President Bill Clinton’s 140 last-day pardons included Marc Rich, who had fled the country on tax evasion charges, which immediately caused harsh public opinion. Some felt Rich bought his pardon with political contributions, and Clinton was later investigated, to no avail.

If Bush were to let Ryan off the hook for his crimes, the decision would rank among the latter of our examples because crime was committed, lives were put in danger for a profit and Ryan was convicted by a jury.

Millions of innocent people drive the roads of Illinois every day, and Ryan was found to be ultimately responsible for allowing vastly unqualified people to drive very dangerous trucks among all of us.

Durbin is highly respected and a powerful Democrat in the U.S. Senate, but this public cry for leniency goes against much of what he’s worked toward. In June 2005, Durbin fought ferociously against U.S. involvement with war crimes taking place at Guantanamo Bay (interrogation and torture).

Granted he stepped too far in his comparison of American military to the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, and Stalinist genocidal maniacs, but his intent was to indicate a slip in the U.S.’s integrity.

Commuting Ryan’s sentence would further deteriorate the U.S.’s integrity because the law of the land should apply to everyone, no matter their social, political or economic status.

Ryan was convicted by a federal court, and no information has since been uncovered to refute that decision. Therefore, if his guilt is not being challenged, then his sentence should not be under review, but does guilt really have anything to do with why commutes or pardons are given?

The judicial system must not falter or be undermined. Whether it be torture, receiving bribes or driving without a valid license, the law that prohibits these actions should be imposed to the fullest extent upon everyone.

Supporters of Durbin’s letter to Bush include current Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who many say is under federal investigation as a result of the Tony Rezko conviction, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has had federal investigators looking at his administration’s hiring processes for more than two years.

Let’s not forget that former Gov. Jim Thompson was Ryan’s attorney, and if one governor cannot prove the innocence of another governor, then guilt must be well-deserved.

With this many prominent politicians coming to the defense of Ryan, a convicted felon, then Illinois’ reputation for corruption is thriving and doing so in a bipartisan atmosphere.

The residents of Illinois deserve justice: don’t let Ryan go free. Don’t let those six children die in vain.