Imprisoned Ex-Lawmaker Subject of Mercy Plea
from President Amid Coronavirus Prison Fright
By Mike Hailey Capitol Inside Editor
Dozens of conservative leaders and an aging rock singer have teamed up in an attempt to have a former Texas congressman freed from prison eight years early amid fears that might not survive the coronavirus if he comes down with the disease that's that's spreading rapidly through correctional facilities across the nation.
Republican Steve Stockman's wife urged President Donald Trump on Thursday to pardon her husband or to allow him to serve the rest of his sentence at home amid the assertion that ailing health would make him more vulnerable than most other inmates to a fatal case of COVID-19.
A tea party darling who challenged U.S. Senator John Cornyn without success in a bitter 2014 primary battle, Stockman was sentenced to 10 years in the federal penitentiary in the spring of 2018 after a conviction on 23 charges that ranged from money laundering to mail and wire fraud in connection with a swindling scheme.
Stockman, who also was ordered to pay more than $1 million in retribution to people who he'd been accused of bilking, has been incarcerated in a federal prison in Beaumont. But Stockman's spouse is contending now that he'd been punished unfairly for a crime that they've characterized as a diversion of federal campaign donations.
“Mr. President, I ask you please, to intervene so that this sentence does not become a death penalty," Patti Stockman said in a video plea for mercy from Trump. "This punishment does not fit the conviction."
Stockman's supporters echoed that concern this week in a letter to the president that portrayed the ex-lawmaker and non-violent prisoners who have significant health problems as "sitting ducks" in the path of the novel disease that had killed almost 16,000 people across the nation including 201 in Texas by mid-afternoon on Thursday with a toll that's soaring every day.
Stockman's wife and allies say that he's a diabetic with respiratory problems that would make it much harder to recover from the coronavirus. More than 50 prominent conservatives including Detroit rocker Ted Nugent join in the pitch for Stockman's release from behind bars on humanitarian grounds.
"The guidelines you have established for the general population, such as social distancing, are not being followed in America’s prisons, and may not or even cannot be followed due to the nature of the prison system," the Stockman advocates said.
"Prisoners with pre-existing bad health conditions are particularly vulnerable to being infected in over-crowded cells, dorms, and feeding facilities. These prisoners were sentenced for crimes, but the present circumstances literally make them at risk for a death sentence, a punishment that does not fit their crimes."
Longtime GOP consultant Richard Viguerie appears to be spearheading the move on Stockman's behalf as one of the nation's direct mail pioneers who had key roles in campaigns for Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and John Tower - the Texan who'd paved the way for the Republican Party's rise here as a U.S. senator. Viguerie, who currently heads the tea party group ConservativeHQ, had worked for Wallace after he bolted from the Democratic Party and run for president as an independent.
The conservatives who signed the letter include several Texans like former state House Republican Rick Green and veteran activist Kelly Shackleford. James C. Miller, a former White House budget director under Ronald Reagan, and ex-congressional member Bob Barr of Georgia. James Dobson, an evangelist who founded the national organization Focus on the Family, added his name to the communique to Trump.
But the move could face a potential obstacle in Cornyn - the veteran U.S. senator who Stockman tried and fail to knock out of Congress six years ago in a primary fight that featured an exchange of allegations and insults before the incumbent won the nomination in a re-election race with 59 percent of the first-round vote. Stockman finished a distant second with 19 percent of the primary vote in a field with a total of eight initial contenders.
Cornyn, who will be on the ballot again in a bid for a new term this fall, has become one of Trump's most outspoken supporters in the past year after being perceived as an establishment Republican throughout most of a long career in politics.
Cornyn had accused Stockman of "lies, shady deals, ethical failings" and other transgressions that had prompted an ethics investigation.
Stockman was elected to Congress initially in 1994 before he was unseated two years later by Democrat Nick Lampson in a special election that was ordered after a federal court redrew several Texas districts.
Stockman had run for the U.S. House for the first time in 1990 when he was eliminated in a primary runoff election. He was defeated by Democratic incumbent Jack Brooks two years later after running unopposed in the primary election. But Stockman ousted Brooks in a rematch in the next election cycle.
Stockman lost to Tony Garza in the primary election in a bid for the Texas Railroad Commission in 1998. But Stockman bounced back in 2012 when he won the heavily-Republican Congressional District 36 that had been created the previous year in the redistricting process. Stockman took aim at Cornyn two years later instead of running for re-election to the U.S. House.