A lawyer for former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock says prosecutors are aiming to be the first to imprison a former member of Congress over ambiguous rules the U.S. House set for itself.
“The government spent two years and two different grand juries investigating every aspect of my 14-year public service career. They investigated my business endeavors, from the age of 18 years old to the three years since leaving office, and they even investigated my personal life,” Schock said. “It’s a sad day in America when our U.S. Justice Department will stop at nothing, not even trampling the Constitution in its zeal to prosecute. Thankfully we have the courts, and I am confident they will provide the necessary check on this out-of-control prosecution.”
In oral arguments, Schock’s defense team claimed House rules for car mileage reimbursements are too vague to base criminal charges upon. Schock has been accused of pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements after submitting false mileage reports following a POLITICO report.
Benjamin Hatch, Schock’s lawyer, also asserted in a highly technical argument that it would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine, as well as the Speech or Debate Clause, to prosecute Schock. According to Hatch, the executive branch shouldn’t be involved in interpreting internal congressional rules, stating it would be a constitutional violation to do so.
“Our position is an ambiguous House rule can’t be used as evidence to prosecute a member of Congress,” Hatch told the three-judge panel. “The House rules do not determine whether anyone, including Mr. Schock, violated” federal law.
* Back to the AP…
Prosecutors said half of the charges Schock faces have nothing to do with House rules, including ones alleging he falsified tax returns.
A Department of Justice lawyer, William Glaser, said at Wednesday’s hearing that the defense was mischaracterizing the government’s approach — as if “we want to go around prosecuting people based on ambiguous rules.”
Glaser said prosecutors won’t rely heavily on House rules in trying to prove their case at a trial for Schock. In some instances, he said, showing Schock violated rules would simply be a way to try and show criminal intent.
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Frank Easterbrook tested Hatch’s argument, pushing him to say whether members of Congress could write their own rules about paying taxes — and bypass the law itself.
Hatch said clear violations of federal law are a different matter. Rather, he argued it would be an overreach for the courts to delve into the gray areas. He based much of his argument on a precedent set during the prosecution of former Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.
“It would be the court fashioning a rule of Congress,” Hatch said.
Wood seemed to dwell on the more glaring examples of Schock’s alleged malfeasance, like seeking mileage reimbursements for more miles than his vehicle was actually driven.
* Jim Dey…
Hatch was interrupted by Wood just 40 seconds into his argument. She wondered why her panel should entertain Schock’s appeal now rather than post-trial. Wood said she was “having a really hard time” understanding why the court should accept Schock’s rule-making argument for dismissal, characterizing his position as asserting a “right not to be tried.” […]
But Wood wondered whether the rules would be used by prosecutors as a “piece of evidence” or “as a basis of liability,” a statement supporting the prosecution.
In the next breath, she threw a potential lifeline to the defense.
“There are regulations, and there are regulations. … Some of them have struck me as pretty vague,” she said, specifically citing House rules on office furnishings. […]
The confusing Q&A raised more questions than it answered. But it seems clear that the appeals court is seriously wrestling with the question of whether it has jurisdiction to issue a ruling on the merits or send the case back to Bruce for trial followed by a possible appeal.