Department of Justice prosecutors have a handful of vague laws they turn to when they want to take down a Republican politician. The laws sound like serious offenses to the average person, but are much more innocuous. For example, mail and wire fraud merely means someone used the mail or wire communications to send communications that were related to an alleged crime of trying to deprive someone of money or property. It's really just piling on. Another one is false statements. That's a charge prosecutors turn to when they are having no luck showing the validity of the main charges.
When DOJ prosecutors couldn't come up with an election crime involving Russians related to two men affiliated with Trump, they cajoled the two into pleading guilty to false statements. Former Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. Both realized they could end up with years in prison if prosecutors tried them for the typical round of vague crimes. However, Papadopoulos may be changing his mind. Figuring out he got a raw deal, he is now considering withdrawing his guilty plea.
Crimes involving campaign contribution fraud are also common for prosecutors to bring when they want to get someone. I'm a former county elections attorney, and usually when there is something amiss with candidate filings, the candidate is offered the chance to amend his or her forms, and may be ordered to pay a fine. It's a civil process, not criminal. It's rare that such violations result in criminal charges. This was done to popular conservative filmmaker and author Dinesh D'Souza. He was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house, five years probation and a $30,000 fine for campaign contribution issues under the Obama administration.
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A recent victim of DOJ targeting is former Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas. He was charged with the usual assortment of vague laws; mail fraud, wire fraud, false statements, campaign fraud, money laundering, etc. Two donors had contributed a total of $915,000 to two nonprofit organizations – $450,000 of that went to one owned by a friend, the Center for the American Future. Prosecutors allege Stockman misspent the money, including on his political campaign. He maintains the money never went to him, but was spent on legitimate nonprofit expenses. The donors were satisfied he spent their money for the educational nonprofit.
Stockman was running against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at the time. The nonprofit sent out a mailer which contrasted the positions of Stockman and Cornyn. It did not expressly advocate for Stockman, so he believed it did not violate election laws. Prosecutors contended otherwise.
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Stockman was also charged with money laundering. Prosecutors said he wrote checks from a nonprofit he ran to two associates, who then turned around and donated to his campaign. Stockman says he paid them for work, and what they did with the money after that was up to them. When the discrepancy was discovered, the two were refunded their money, and the FEC report was corrected. It should have been handled as a routine technical violation like it is for most political candidates. But when the two associates realized they were going to be prosecuted too, they turned on Stockman and took plea agreements.
It took prosecutors four grand juries to finally find one that would indict Stockman. As everyone knows, a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Stockman was eventually convicted. His supporters say the system was rigged against him; the judge denied all but two witnesses for the defense. The congressman was not allowed to refer to anything political or mention Lois Lerner's name in front of the jury. All of his defense motions were denied.
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Stockman was targeted because of his conservative activism that ruffled feathers in high places. He insisted on investigating the IRS for going after conservative nonprofits. He filed a resolution for the arrest of IRS' Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress. Coincidentally, the prosecutor who signed the indictment of Stockman was copied on emails from Lerner where she arranged to target conservative nonprofits. Stockman also pursued the impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder for perjury, failure to comply with subpoenas and failure to discharge his duties. He really got to the DOJ there.
Plenty of Democrats have done far worse than Stockman and escaped consequences. Former Rep. Jon Corvine, D-N.J., was CEO and chairman of MF Global when the company filed bankruptcy in 2011. He was asked to explain to Congress why $1.2 billion of customer funds were missing. He said he didn't know. Charges were never brought against him.
Stockman is sitting in jail awaiting sentencing. He shouldn't be in jail, because he's not at risk for fleeing. It is just one more intimidation tactic, made to wear him down and make him look like a serious offender. He faces up to 283 years in prison. His defense website observes, "If DOJ hadn't settled on these, their favorite charges against conservatives (fraud, money laundering, campaign finance issues) … they would have kept conniving until they found a complaint that would bring an indictment." Let's hope he appeals and gets some fair treatment finally.
Note: This column first appeared at Townhall.com.