Over the last decade, we’ve seen a disturbing number of cases in which the defendants are manifestly guilty, only to have their cases implode due to particularly outrageous prosecutorial misconduct. For instance, the New Orleans cops responsible for the Danziger Bridge shootings had their convictions and decades-long prison sentences thrown out in 2013 after it emerged that federal prosecutors engaged in high-tech witness intimidation and jury tampering. They were granted a new trial, but pleaded guilty in return for sharply reduced sentences. Just last year, several trials related to Freddie Gray’s death went sideways because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to the defense.
Well, attorneys for a disgraced former Republican congressman claim that there’s a new entry to this dubious list. They claim that federal prosecutors went too far in delving into their client’s sex life and supposed sexual orientation.
Back in 2015, Aaron Schock, the congressman for much of central Illinois, came under fire for taking scads of flights on private planes and sticking taxpayers with the bill in violation of House rules. He also gained infamy for decorating his congressional office in a style that aped “Downton Abbey.” Watch a tour of his office here, from ABC News.
A month after that report, Schock was forced to resign after word got out that he billed the government for 170,000 miles of travel in his personal car when he’d actually only driven half that. It later emerged that he claimed to have put over 42,000 miles on a car he’d previously owned during his first term in Congress–even though he signed documents saying he’d put a total of 53,100 miles on that car during his last year in the state legislature and his first year in Congress.
Due to these and other highly dubious items on his balance sheet, Schock was indicted last October on 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of government funds, false statements, false election disclosures, and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors in Springfield accused Schock of using his House and campaign accounts as his personal kitty. Among other things, they charge that he used his government account to buy a private flight to a Chicago Bears football game and pay for the pilot’s meals, and used his campaign account to pay for his guests’ hotel and restaurant expenses. They also claimed that he bought tickets to two Super Bowls with campaign money.
At first glance, it looked like Schock’s only defense was to use what has sadly become a tried and true fallback for Republicans–Hillary hate.
— Queen Leigh (@JBFletcher88) June 27, 2017
But on Tuesday, Schock’s lawyers made a filing alleging something more serious. They claimed that prosecutors and federal investigators had asked “irrelevant and highly invasive questions” about Schock’s sex life. Among other things, they charged that investigators made “repeated inquiries” about whether Schock is gay.
According to Schock’s lawyers, this line of questioning was not just “distasteful and offensive,” but potentially “prejudicial” because of their potential affect on witnesses who testified before the grand jury. They therefore contend that the entire indictment may be tainted and should be thrown out. At the very least, Schock’s lawyers want any evidence “tainted” by this alleged misconduct to be suppressed.
Schock has faced a number of questions about his sexual orientation. Most of them derive from his decision to have his photographer, Jonathon Link, come along on a 2014 trip to India. However, Schock never disclosed Link’s presence there–a violation of House rules.
That being said, though, the allegations from Schock’s attorneys are somewhat disturbing. They contend that the government has probed into Schock’s personal life in a manner that is completely irrelevant to the case. For instance, they claimed that one of Schock’s girlfriends was a cover for his being gay. They even went as far as to question another man with whom this girlfriend was involved at the time–a move that the defense says would be “astonishing and inappropriate” even if Schock did know this other man.
In essence, Schock’s attorneys are accusing the government of gay-shaming Schock. Supposedly, being exposed as a closeted gay man wouldn’t play well in this deep-red portion of central Illinois. If this is in fact true, it would not only be grossly improper, but completely unnecessary. There is no innocent explanation for massively overbilling the government for mileage driven on your cars, and it strains credulity to claim travel expenses for sporting events and tickets as legitimate government or campaign business.
However, just because someone is manifestly guilty is not an excuse to shred the Constitution in order to convict him. If there is anything at all to these claims from Schock’s attorneys, the government could potentially have its case severely crippled, or thrown out altogether.
While it is clear beyond any doubt that Schock engaged in shockingly brazen corruption (yes, the pun was intended), he still has the right to a fair trial. The judge in this case ought to take a long, hard look at these allegations. Whether they are true or not, the integrity of the criminal-justice system demands no less.
(featured image courtesy Prime Minister Narendra Modi, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)