Originally posted at Breitbart.
Editor’s Note: The following is part 1 of 3 exclusive Breitbart News excerpts from bestselling author Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: How They Taught Me a Lesson
If a man wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on, then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark.
—John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
The mood in the courtroom was tense and electric as I entered, accompanied by my superstar lawyer Benjamin Brafman and an- other attorney, Alex Spiro. We were in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan, the offices of Judge Richard Berman. Brafman, with his elegant locks of hair brushed back, looked completely at home in this environment. I, on the other hand, was not.
I tried to look nonchalant, or at least expressionless. Inside, how- ever, my heart was pounding with terror. In a very short time I’d know if I was headed to federal prison. My crime? I had exceeded the campaign finance laws by convincing two of my friends to contribute $10,000 apiece to a candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York; then I reimbursed them for their contribution. For this—I subsequently discovered—I could be prosecuted as a felon and sent away for up to two years. I had already pleaded guilty to the charge. Now I was going to find out whether the judge would give me a prison sentence.
My greatest fear was not prison itself. At Brafman’s suggestion, I had hired a criminologist with extensive experience in the various federal prison camps. “If you get prison,” this fellow told me, “it’s going to be a white-collar camp, most likely Taft or Lompoc in California. You’re going to be surrounded by accountants, lawyers, dentists, bureaucrats. All the others in there have proven themselves through good behavior. These are nonviolent criminals, just like you.”
That part—the “just like you”—jolted me. I almost didn’t hear the rest. “You’ll have to work part-time, but you’ll have lots of free time. There is little contact with the outside world. No cell phones and no laptops. But you can send emails from a general computer that is mon- itored, and you can make three hundred minutes of phone calls per month, also monitored. That’s not much, but you’ll get used to it. Taft, the camp I’d recommend for you, has pretty good facilities, a gym, a running track, a tennis court. You’re a writer, so do a lot of reading and writing. I’ll help to prepare you for what to expect. If you stay busy, and use common sense, you’ll be fine.”
Fine? I took that as an exaggeration. Even if there was little danger of being stabbed or raped, how can someone who is locked up for two years, without a phone and a laptop, and such limited contact with the outside world, be fine? My deepest fears were over my nineteen- year-old daughter. She, I knew, would be devastated. I had recently gone through a difficult divorce and unfortunately my daughter’s rela- tionship with her mother had been, at least temporarily, severed. Even though my daughter was now in college, in terms of immediate family, I was all she had.
I was accompanied by a few close friends, and two sympathetic jour- nalists, the seasoned veteran Jerome Corsi from WorldNetDaily, and a young reporter for Breitbart News, Adelle Nazarian. Nazarian said she was an immigrant from Iran and understood where I was coming from politically. Most of the crowd was hostile. The liberal press was there in force, from the staid New York Times to the rabid Daily News. The reporters are so young, I thought to myself, and how delighted they look at the prospect of me being sent away. These people hated me because I was a person of color who was also a conservative. They had regarded me as a race-traitor, an enemy of the people. Jonathan Cape- hart, a blogger for the Washington Post, opined that “Dinesh D’Souza is a disgusting man. . . . D’Souza should be in jail where he would no longer be able to assault the rest of us with his special brand of racist bile.” For guys like Capehart, I was about to get my comeuppance and they were about to get their schadenfreude.
In the back of the room, I even had a critic from the evangelical right: I noticed the sly reporter from World Magazine there to continue that publication’s long-standing vendetta against me. She avoided my gaze. Brafman told me the men walking around with badges were from the government’s prosecution unit. I noticed their smug expressions, anticipating victory, as if my incarceration were a foregone conclusion. There were also a few ordinary folk who had read about my case and came out of curiosity.
My attention focused on the prosecutor, Carrie H. Cohen, a woman with an enduringly haggard and harassed expression, as if life has done her wrong. From two previous court hearings, I knew she was brash and abrasive. Carrie never shook my hand and she avoided eye contact with me; I got the impression she considered me, like all defendants, to be vermin. She also had an irritating habit of referring to herself as the Government. “The Government does not agree.” “Your honor, the Government will prove . . .” “The Government takes objection.” Mean- while, I’m thinking, Who elected this woman? She reminded me of Inspector Javert from Les Misérables. Of course I kept these thoughts to myself. I asked Brafman’s associate Alex Spiro, “How important a case is this for her?” He said, “For Carrie? Oh, this is a career case. This could make or break her career.” Carrie, I realized, badly wanted me in prison so that her career could advance.
I knew that Carrie was a stooge, an enforcer for people higher up than her. The most important people—her boss, an Asian-Indian fed- eral prosecutor named Preet Bharara, and his boss, the attorney general Eric Holder—were not in the courtroom. Also absent was the biggest boss of them all, the president of the United States, Barack Obama. That trio, I knew, would all take a considerable interest in the outcome of my sentencing.
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud voice in the courtroom. “United States versus Dinesh D’Souza.” What a phrase! I winced. “Please stand for Judge Berman.” The buzz quickly subsided. In saun- tered Judge Berman, fully robed and looking solemn as usual, his head bobbing from side to side like an old family horse. Behind the judge came three of his clerks. Slowly, ceremoniously, the judge took his seat. The clerks planted themselves in chairs against the wall.
Then began what I am going to call my official castigation. Nor- mally sentencing is a perfunctory business, but not this day. The judge gave me a verbal flaying from the bench that lasted for the better part of an hour. During this time the clerks watched with evident bemuse- ment; they seemed to enjoy watching their man carry out a ritual flog- ging.
The judge insisted I had “willfully and knowingly” violated the law. He added, “Mr. D’Souza’s crime is serious.” One of the purposes of punishment, he suggested, is to discourage others from committing similar violations. “The public certainly needs to be deterred . . . from making phony contributions and violating the election laws.” I took this to mean I was going to be punished not just for what I did but also to send a message of discouragement to the general public.
The judge then rejected any suggestion—either by me or my lawyers—that I was being selectively prosecuted because of my public criticism of the Obama administration. That claim had been widely cir- culated in the media, especially the conservative media. For Berman, however, making an interesting deviation into Texas terminology, it was “all hat, no cattle.” Referring to my public statement that “we don’t want to live in a society where Lady Justice removes her blindfold and winks at her friends and targets her enemies,” the judge opined that “I’m totally confident that Lady Justice is doing her job and that she’s not taking off her blindfold to target Dinesh D’Souza.” There were mild titters from the audience. Leftist reporters, bloggers, and photogra- phers were in a very good mood this morning.
Things did not improve from there; they actually got worse. At Brafman’s suggestion, I had submitted to the judge some two dozen or so letters from family members and others, including some prominent liberals, testifying to my good character. Alluding to them, the judge sounded dismissive. “The court receives packages of letters of support not unlike those submitted in this case in virtually every criminal case, including one I received just the other day where a defendant had pled guilty to a conspiracy to commit a Hobbs act robbery of drugs involv- ing fake police uniforms, badges, police car sirens, and the possession of two guns to be used in connection with the robbery conspiracy.” The judge added that “someone wrote in his behalf to me, ‘I have known the defendant’—who, by the way had five prior convictions—‘for almost twenty years now. To be honest, throughout all the many years of knowing him, he’s always been a loving, kind, well-mannered, ded- icated, hard-working, respectful young man.’ ”
The judge seemed to be in a Freudian cast of mind, a psychological disposition I attributed partly to his former tenure as a family court judge. The letters I had submitted, the judge said, simply couldn’t ex- plain why I, “a successful, famous political commentator, author, lec- turer and film-maker at the pinnacle of his success, would commit an election law felony.” In other words, why would I do something so self-destructive? “That’s taking a staggering, enormous risk.”
The judge proceeded to play on the courtroom TV a recent inter- view I had done. I could see Brafman scratching his head, and even others in the courtroom seemed puzzled. This did not seem a normal thing for a judge to do. I found it strange to see myself on the screen in that bizarre setting. The sentencing was beginning to take on the character of a “show trial,” which I knew would not be altogether dis- pleasing to the leftists in the courtroom. I wondered if I was going to get prison time for something injudicious that I said in a TV interview.
But as I listened to myself, I didn’t detect anything incriminating— no smoking gun. I had pointed out to the interviewer how liberal offenders who had done far worse things than I were not even inves- tigated, much less prosecuted. I said I believed I was being selectively targeted and that I would not be intimidated into silence by the Obama administration. My host was entirely convinced, but not Judge Berman. In fact, the judge seemed annoyed to hear me speaking a lot. “He is a talker,” he remarked. “In fact, he’s almost a compulsive talker. I don’t think he’s a listener.” Hm, I’m thinking, I am on a talk show! And as a writer and speaker, I do actually talk for a living! In this respect, my profession isn’t so dissimilar from yours, Your Honor!
Once again, these thoughts stayed within the corridors of my mind. Judge Berman continued his critical commentary: “Mr. D’Souza, having every right to be interviewed, continues to defeat and mini- mize the significance of the crime and of his behavior by reference to other people, other issues, and other events, including by reference to President Obama.” He added, “The campaign law offense and much of the inaccurate chatter and interviews surrounding this case do not promote respect for the law and need to be remedied.” Finally he said, “I’m not sure, Mr. D’Souza, that you get it. And it’s still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”
Yes, acceptance of responsibility. Of course I accepted responsibility, but it seemed that the judge—and he wasn’t the only one—was looking for something else. He wasn’t satisfied with contrition over what I did; he wanted contrition for who I was. Moreover, he seemed eager for some sort of a display; he was looking for abject humiliation, for tear- ful confession, for recantation and apology. I wondered what would happen if I delivered what he wanted, and concluded my remarks by saying that I had now become a liberal. Would everyone applaud and allow me to go home, my earlier misdeeds forgotten and forgiven?
I would rather go to jail, I resolved, than participate in a show-trial “conversion.” I would not apologize for my public criticism of the Obama administration. And if that’s what you want, Judge Berman, then take a hike!
Listening to this judicial diatribe, which I found almost surreal, my mind flashed back to the scene of the crime. It was, in fact, my office at the King’s College, in New York. My friend Wendy Long, whom I’ve known since my days at Dartmouth, was running for the U.S. Senate in New York. I had urged her not to run, because she had no experience in electoral politics. “It’s a brutal business,” I had told Wendy, “and I fear it will break your wings.” But she was adamant—she didn’t think rais- ing money would be a big problem—so I told her that if she decided to go for it, I would help her.
In March 2012, I gave Wendy $10,000. This, she told me, was the campaign finance limit. I also agreed to let Wendy’s campaign use my name on its fundraising literature. But as the months went on, Wendy urged me to do more for the campaign. Hey, Dinesh, can you speak at a fundraiser on the Upper East Side? Would you come to Westchester to talk to some donors? Can you have dinner with a group of Indian doctors who might donate to the campaign? I wanted to help, but I was frenetically promoting my film 2016: Obama’s America. As much as I adore Wendy, I found it virtually impossible to do any of those things.
I was walking by my assistant’s desk one afternoon in August when he informed me, “Wendy called. She has something to ask you.” Want- ing to do more for her campaign, I got an idea. I asked my assistant, “Do you like Wendy? Do you support her candidacy?” He said, “Sure. You know I do.” I said, “Would you be willing to give her ten thousand dollars if I then reimbursed you?” He agreed. And then I approached another friend of mine and made the same arrangement. It was done. I was relieved. I knew I was getting around the campaign finance limit, but not for a moment did I consider I was breaking the law.
Wendy lost the November 2012 election, as most people expected. Life goes on, and 2013 seemed to bring new challenges and opportu- nities: I started work on a new book and accompanying film, America: Imagine a World Without Her.
Then, one fine day, as I was walking through Central Park, I got a phone call from a friend saying that the FBI approached him and was asking questions about me. “Something about a campaign finance violation,” he said. I was initially nonplused: what had I done? Then I remembered. Oh, that? Was that it?
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