PEORIA — Detailing what they say are a host of incidents of misconduct and overreach, former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's defense attorneys asked a judge to dismiss all charges against him or bar testimony from key witnesses.
The defense also claims prosecutors and federal agents asked at least a dozen potential witnesses "irrelevant and highly invasive questions" about Schock's sexuality and personal relationships — an issue that the former state and federal lawmaker was loath to discuss during his tenure in public life.
The motion — one of nine documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on Tuesday — claims prosecutors "made repeated false, misleading and erroneous statements of fact concerning conduct by Mr. Schock to witnesses," influencing their testimony and the grand jury's understanding of the charges they were asked to bring.
It also claims attempts by prosecutors to intimidate and mislead witnesses, including Schock's political director Karen McDonald Haney and former executive assistant Sarah Rogers, and says their testimony should be excluded when Schock's trial commences in January 2018.
Per its policy, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois said it will not comment on pending cases.
The 36-year-old Peoria Republican was indicted last November on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, making false statements, filing a false tax return, theft of government funds and falsification of Federal Election Commission filings. The charges allege a course of conduct that began when Schock, a Peoria Republican, was first elected to Congress in 2008 and continued until October 2015, about six months after he resigned from office.
In the 92-page filing, defense attorneys claim the conduct is "a sorry example of one of the most fundamental abuses of prosecutorial authority that can occur."
In essence, they say, prosecutors decided they wanted to indict Schock, then set about finding something they could charge him with. The filing — broad elements of which have been previewed in prior defense claims — attempts to paint a picture of an overzealous prosecution, going beyond the bounds of fact-finding and instead bent only upon charging and convicting.
Among their claims: Prosecutor Tim Bass "engaged in a practice of informing ... witnesses favorable to Mr. Schock of 'facts' outside those witnesses' knowledge. These 'facts' were uniformly ones that falsely, unfairly and repeatedly portrayed Mr. Schock as dishonest and of bad character, and, even worse, the represented 'facts' were false or misleading half-truths."
They state, for example, that both Haney — a former Journal Star reporter — and Rogers were shown incomplete bank statements of Schock's, implying that he deposited funds from the sale of Super Bowl tickets bought by the campaign into his personal account to avoid bouncing a check. The defense argues that the complete bank statement showed plenty of money in the account.
"The government misled the grand jury and witnesses before it by failing to show witnesses the entire record (one full page). Mr. Bass instead showed only the select portion that suited his purpose," the filing reads.
Defense lawyers also claim that prosecutors questioned Haney about claims Schock's campaign account paid down the balance on the lawmaker's vehicle loan, despite having testimony from Peoria auto dealer Jeff Green that it was a paperwork error on the part of the dealership. The defense said prosecutors continued implying to Haney that malfeasance was involved, and didn't verify Green's statements to them for more than a year.
They also claim Haney and Rogers were subject to being "intimidated" by prosecutors, both through frequent implications that their immunity could be revoked as well as through burdensome and at times adversarial questioning.
"Through its treatment of Ms. Haney, Ms. Rogers and other witnesses, the government materially misled the grand jury as to facts and law that were critical to the indictment," their filing reads. "Moreover, the government's efforts to mislead and intimidate ... materially deprived the grand jury of their testimony, which was exculpatory towards Mr. Schock."
Defense lawyers also slammed prosecutors and federal agents for "inquiries into Mr. Schock's sexuality and romantic relationships (which) where not just distasteful and offensive. They were prejudicial."
That includes, they claim, asking both of Schock's chiefs of staff about his sexual orientation and asking a sitting member of Congress — U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo. — whether Schock shared a hotel room on vacation with a woman he was reported to be dating, and asking other former aides to clarify the distinction between "going out on dates" and "dating."
No charges filed appear to relate to Schock's romantic relationships, and the defense notes that the lines of questioning in FBI interviews, meetings with prosecutors and during grand jury testimony "reflect a consistent approach and strategy that could reasonably be expected to influence the opinions of potential witnesses."
The filing repeatedly disputes any insinuation that Schock is gay.
In other filings on Tuesday, Schock's attorneys continued their desire to interview grand jurors — whose identifies are secret — as they allege prosecutors improperly mentioned Schock had been subpoenaed to testify. A defendant has a right not to testify and the former congressman's attorneys claim any discussion of a subpoena puts the onus on their client. They point to a handwritten note from a McLean County man who claimed he talked to a grand juror.
A very similar request was made earlier but nixed by Judge Colin Bruce about three months ago.
Another point of contention is that Schock's attorneys are claiming prosecutors are not turning over evidence as required. The material, they claim, could contain information that could bolster Schock's case that he didn't do anything wrong. Government attorneys have repeatedly over the past months said they are turning all documents to Team Schock, but in their 35-page motion filed Tuesday, Schock's attorneys disagree.
Rather, they allege their own interviews with potential witnesses show differences in statements between the official reports and their reports. As such, they are asking for a full review by the court to ensure the rules of evidence are followed.The motion also mentions defense attorneys have only interviewed a fraction of the 100 plus witnesses which could be a sign that an early January 2018 trial setting might be in jeopardy. The start date of the trial has already been moved once; it was supposed to begin last month.
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Andy Kravetz is the Journal Star public safety reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3283. Follow him on Twitter @AndyKravetz.