The sentence has been rendered on conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s federal campaign-finance violation trial and legal experts across the country are outraged. “He never should have been prosecuted for this at all,” Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax on Tuesday.
Dershowitz was one of many prominent trial lawyers and legal scholars who expressed their wonderment on how the case ever got as far as it did. “This was a small, well-motivated mistake, Dershowitz added. “Just probation would have been the appropriate sentence in this case. No confinement anywhere.”
Others expressed their disbelief. “It’s not going to do anybody any good; I guess that’s my first thought,” said David Mason, a former commissioner of the Federal Election Commission. “My second thought is that the judge certainly exercised good sense in rejecting the prosecution’s call to put him in jail for a one-time thing like this, which was bad judgment, but frankly didn’t hurt anybody,” he told Newsmax.
The question becomes; was this a witch hunt by the federal government on a man whose top-grossing 2012 documentary blasted President Barack Obama? He was fined $30,000 and ordered to teach English to non-English-speaking people eight hours a week while on five years of probation. The federal judge was a Clinton appointee. Did that make this a political trial? D’Souza’s movie, “2016: Obama’s America,” still remains a top-grossing documentary.
D’Souza’s crime involved illegally reimbursing two “straw donors” who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a first-time Republican candidate whom he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s. Did that alone constitute the sentence rendered?
The filmmaker is a naturalized citizen from Mumbai, India. He also served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration. In his own defense before sentencing, D’Souza told the judge, “I got the stupid idea. I wish I didn’t do something so bad and so stupid. I chose to help her in the worst possible way. It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea. I regret breaking the law.”
Although such a candid confession is rare in open court, the prosecutors sought a prison term of 10 to 16 months, rejecting defense arguments that D’Souza was “ashamed and contrite” about his crime and deserved probation with community service. Why?
Federal sentencing guidelines called for D’Souza to serve a year in prison, but D’Souza had no prior criminal record and no other political involvement was suspected, unlike cases considered far more severe. Yet the judge said, “I do think that it’s important to put some teeth into the probationary period.”
D’Souza’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, patted his client’s shoulder. But patting shoulders wasn’t what many conservatives and liberals alike felt like doing. Many attacked the entire trial and sentence as an act of retribution by the Obama administration. In fact, both Dershowitz and Mason went further by criticizing the eight-month confinement D’Souza’s received as part of the probation punishment.
Mason said, “Dinesh has been profoundly embarrassed by this. He understands that he broke the law. Everybody else understands that he broke the law,” he told Newsmax. The former federal elections commissioner added, “I don’t know why or how his case even came to the prosecutor’s attention, because in the world of campaign finance this is very small, and it’s completely insignificant.”
Mason said “Prosecuting this as a criminal case was overkill.” It appears that wasn’t the opinion of the prosecutors, or at least those that pay them.
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