FRANK GAFFNEY: We’re back, joined once again, I’m pleased to say, by Steve Cook, he is by profession, a federal prosecutor, these days he is Assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Tennessee. He formerly served as the Chief of the Criminal Division of that district. I’m speaking to him not in that capacity, but in another that he also holds, the President of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. And in that capacity, he has been rendering, I think, an incalculably important service to our country by raising an alarm about this so called criminal justice reform initiative that we’re told is the object of great bipartisan consensus and imminent congressional action and to talk to us about why that’s not a good idea, is Steve Cook, and Steve, welcome back, it’s very good to have you with us, thank you for your time today.
STEVE COOK: Well thank you for having me and thanks for that kind introduction.
FRANK GAFFNEY: Well, it’s heartfelt, and I think well deserved. And I want to ask you to just sort of set this up. You’ve got a very compelling power point presentation which we’re going to link to at securefreedom.org but it really walks through what’s wrong with this picture, and maybe I could just ask you to start by talking about the premise of this reform initiative that holds that we’re really talking about just kind of nonviolent drug offenders that seem to be filling the U.S. prison system and are being overly sentenced and penalized, talk about that truth if you would.
STEVE COOK: Well, and you’re right on the money. The premise that’s being sold to both the public and Congress is that our federal prisons are full of, and this is their language, nonviolent drug offenders, and that conjures up all sorts of false images, it just generates a false narrative. What I think about when you say a nonviolent drug offender is this kid I went to high school with smoking dope in the bathroom. That’s not who’s in federal prison and the notion that that’s anything like who’s in prison in just crazy talk. What we’ve got in federal prison, and you can ask any law enforcement office you want, what cases are going to federal court, they’re the cartel cases, the high level drug trafficking cases, the heroin traffickers and the gang bangers who are selling dope to generate money for violent crime and other activities. And so, when they say nonviolent drug offender and that’s who’s in our federal prisons and needs to get out early they’re misleading the public.
FRANK GAFFNEY: Well, and dangerously so, because if they actually are violent criminal drug offenders, they represent a threat to public safety and you’ve done some serious drilling down on some of the people who have already had their sentences commuted by the president and they don’t qualify as nonviolent and maybe start by talking about what is violent about this whole activity.
STEVE COOK: Well, and nobody out there doesn’t get this in the public. Drug trafficking is a violent business. It generates huge amounts of cash, the drugs themselves, the drug dealers are dealing with a very desperate clientele and in order to be in the business you have to either engage in or be prepared to engage in violent crime to protect those huge cash proceeds and drugs. So it’s inherently violent. Secondly, and this is the other thing, the narrative overlooks, and that is that the drug users are people who are out engaging in a wide array of crime and some law enforcement professionals estimate that 80 to 90 percent of crime is generated by individuals out using drugs. So this notion that this is a nonviolent undertaking is just not, not well founded.
FRANK GAFFNEY: And then there’s the large numbers of people who are just dying from overdoses, so there’s violence there as well. But, in this power point presentation that you’ve done Steve Cook, of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, you talk about some of the people that the President has already enabled to get back on the street as being people who have very much a violent records. Give us a flavor of that if you would and whether you expect more of such people to be sprung if he continues this kind of commutations of sentences.
STEVE COOK: Well, we’ve got the commutations and we’ve got the early release program. And the early release program by the sentencing commission was 50 or 60,000 people are or will be released early. Let me touch on that program for a second. We’ve identified, and I’ll give you two examples, one triple murderer in Columbus, Ohio, out early on the early release program. Should have been in federal prison, instead he was out and killed his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s seven and ten year old daughters. Didn’t just kill them, slit their throats. So there’s that. Another example out here in Tennessee where I am, an individual out early release should have been in federal prison committed a cold blooded murder of an individual who he exchanged hostile words with, went to his house, gunned him down in his own house and I could go on with dozens of other examples of violators out early. So that’s early release programs in a sense. The other program, and that is the clemency program, the President has now granted clemency, that is early release to a couple hundred federal prisoners many of whom were armed drug traffickers and many of whom had significant criminal histories. One had eight prior felony drug convictions another had–was caught with forty fire arms.
FRANK GAFFNEY: Non-violent people for sure. Now Steve Cook, let me just ask you, one of the things that is particularly troubling to me is that among the people that are being let out, in one manner or another under one auspices or another, but again, with this false pretense that they won’t pose a threat to the public safety, are people who have been converted in prison to, not just to Islam, but to jihad. As a federal prosecutor, do you regard that as a potential serious additional problem on top of all the ones we’ve talked about so far?
STEVE COOK: Well, just look at the Brussels and Paris attackers. Those individuals are individuals who came from neighborhoods fraught with drug dealing and violent crime, people who had been involved in that themselves. The link there is unmistakable.
FRANK GAFFNEY: And many of them involved in prison, as well.
STEVE COOK: Right.
FRANK GAFFNEY: Indeed. The recidivism rate of such people who are let out, you’ve mentioned some that have engaged in really grisly murderous violence. Give us a sense of how bad a problem this typically is.
STEVE COOK: Well, believe me, a study on this was done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that studied recidivism across the country in thirty different states and with respect to violent crime and drug trafficking they determined that the recidivism rate runs right about 77 percent. And when we’re releasing tens of thousands of high level federal drug and violent offenders, that’s cause for concern.
FRANK GAFFNEY: Indeed. You have a statistic in your power point Steve that you suggest if there’s a one percent reduction in the federal prison population it translates into something on the order of 33,000 more crimes. And again, many of those are going to be ones that result in real harm to people, not just material, but actually physical as well, right?
STEVE COOK: Exactly right and that statistic is one that was presented to the Senate during hearings on sentencing reform and that is for every one percent of prison population released, you’ll have I think 32,850 serious violent or serious crimes including murder, rape, robberies and others.
FRANK GAFFNEY: We have no idea what’s coming, I can only believe that Paul Ryan, who has indicated, Speaker of the House, who has said he intends to bring this bill on the floor shortly, has no idea what’s coming. This makes the work you’re about at the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys incalculably important as I say, Steve Cook, and I hope you’ll keep it up and I hope you’ll come back to us soon and spend a longer time with us, going through this because I think there’s just a desperate need for us to understand what’s afoot before we do more damage to our people. Thank you for your work, Sir. Keep it up, come back to us soon.
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