WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, 61, sits in prison, awaiting sentencing in November for his April conviction, facing up to 283 years in 23 charges nearly all related to checks he received from two donors totaling $950,000.
His family and supporters in the 36th congressional district, just east of Houston, which he represented from 2013 through 2015, see his case as another example of prosecutorial excess of the kind who cross the Deep State.
A website set up by supporters attributes the prosecution in the case, which began with an aggressive multi-year Obama Justice Department investigation, as part of a pattern of political vindictiveness that has affected others – from author-filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza to those close to President Trump in the wide-ranging probe by Independent Counsel Robert Mueller.
Former federal prosecutor and fellow Texan Sidney Powell – who worked briefly pro-bono on Stockman’s legal team following his conviction, filing a court document calling for his release from prison pending his sentencing hearing and appeal – told the Western Journal that justice was not served in the case.
“The ‘Public Integrity’ section of the Department of Justice is wrongly named,” she said. “It is notorious for political prosecutions. It is highly likely they targeted former Congressman Stockman and have been extremely and unreasonably harsh toward him because he was so outspoken in trying to hold (former IRS official) Lois Lerner, the Clintons, and Obama accountable.”
The attorney and author of the book “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice” added that the DOJ clearly had “an enemies list” that included the lawmaker “and they acted on it.”
Powell likens Stockman’s prosecution to that of the late Alaska GOP Senator Ted Stevens, was convicted of federal corruption charges just eight days before his 2008 re-election bid, which almost certainly led to his narrow defeat by just over 1 percent of the vote tally. Federal prosecutors accused the senator of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in “freebies” from oil company executives. However, the conviction was overturned just months later, before Stevens was sentenced, after a probe of the DOJ found evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct, including withholding exculpatory evidence.
Powell noted the extraordinary step the DOJ is taking in imprisoning Stockman as he awaits his sentencing hearing later this month.
“That Congressman Stockman is in prison now before he is even sentenced is a further outrage calculated to impede his ability to appeal and to break him,” she said. “I’m appalled at what the Department of Justice has become. It has completely lost the trust and respect of the people.”
By way of comparison, Louisiana Democrat Rep. William Jefferson, who famously hid $90,000 in cash in a freezer, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2009 for taking roughly $500,000 in bribes and seeking millions of dollars to broker business deals in Africa. The former congressman, a member of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, was caught on camera taking $100,000 in cash to use as a pay off to an African government official. He was not imprisoned during his appeal, which was not successful. However, his sentence was reduced in 2017 to time served, a little over five years.
Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards was indicted in 2011 for using nearly $1 million in campaign-related contributions to pay the expenses of his mistress and their child during his 2008 presidential run. In that case, like Stockman’s, two donors wrote checks totally $925,000 to the candidate. The funds were not used for the campaign but facilitated Edwards’ ability to remain in the race. As in the Stockman case, the DOJ’s Public Integrity section charged Edwards with violating federal election law by accepting contributions that exceeded campaign-finance limits and filing a false campaign financial disclosure report. The former North Carolina senator was acquitted on one count in the indictment (as was Stockman), with a mistrial on five others. The Obama Justice Department decided not to retry the case and Edwards received no punishment.
A Washington attorney who specializes in the area of election law said the “DOJ swamp” is clearly trying to make an example of Stockman, because of his work to impeach former Attorney General Eric Holder and to punish former IRS official Lois Lerner for her attacks on conservative organizations.
While in office, Stockman, with a group of 19 other GOP House members, pursued the impeachment of Holder for perjury, for failure to comply with subpoenas (including those related to Operation Fast and Furious) and for failure to discharge his duties. According to the articles of impeachment, among the duties not fulfilled was launching a criminal investigation of the Internal Revenue Service for the targeting of conservative groups during the 2012 election cycle. In 2014, Stockman also filed a resolution calling for the U.S. Capitol Police to arrest Lerner for acting in contempt of Congress.
“Asking the Justice Department to prosecute Lois Lerner for admittedly illegal activity is a joke,” Stockman said in a statement at the time. “The Obama administration will not prosecute the Obama administration … It is up to this House to uphold the rule of law.”
Stockman’s wife, Patti, told the Western Journal, “The thing is Steve was a whistleblower in essence on the Obama administration. He was constantly pointing out and underscoring the corruption in (it).”
Stockman decided not to seek re-election for his House seat in 2014, but instead to challenge incumbent Sen. John Cornyn for the Republican nomination.
A significant portion of the criminal indictment focuses on this time frame, charging that Stockman used funds donated to the Center for the American Future, a non-profit set up by an associate, to benefit his political campaign. The Center sent out a newspaper-like mailing to prospective voters contrasting the policy positions of Cornyn and Stockman, but the former lawmaker’s legal defense team argued it did not expressly advocate for him and therefore did not violate FEC law.
Other charges relate to his Life Without Limits non-profit. The indictment alleges that Stockman wrote checks to two associates using Life Without Limits funds who then turned around and made contributions to his 2012 congressional campaign on behalf of themselves and their family members. These “straw donor” FEC charges are similar to ones brought against conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in 2014. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve eight months in a detention center, five years of probation and pay a $30,000 fine. President Trump pardoned D’Souza in May.
The associates later were refunded by the campaign and its FEC report corrected, a routine procedure through which campaigns made aware of questions about donations return them and adjust their federal reporting.
Stockman’s lawyer also told the court the checks written to the associates were for services rendered. “Once the funds are earned and received, they become the property of the individual, who is generally free to give them to anyone, including a political campaign,” the former congressman’s plea read.
The associates flipped testifying against Stockman in plea agreements.
As to other charges related to the fraudulent solicitation and misappropriation of funds, Stockman’s legal team countered that organizations have latitude in how donations received are spent and no misrepresentations were made.
During the course of the jury trial, Stockman’s attorneys were strictly forbidden from mentioning any possibly that politics motivated the DOJ to prosecute their client.
Renowned legal scholar Alan Dershowitz voiced his concerns about election and public corruption law being vague enough to provide fertile ground for the criminalization of policy differences.
“It is not enough to base prosecutions on the old saw that ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire,’” he wrote in a 2015 piece for the Gatestone Institute. “The reason these questions arise is not because there is no corruption in government,” Dershowitz added. “It is because the laws distinguishing between constitutionally protected political activities and illegal payments to office holders are vague and indeterminate. These laws give prosecutors enormous discretion to determine whether to prosecute questionable transactions. And the courts refuse to second-guess prosecutorial decisions even in cases where selective prosecution based on improper considerations seems evident.”
In a court pleading, Stockman’s attorney recounted that multiple grand juries reportedly considered and rejected the charges being brought against his client, until the DOJ was able to convince one to indict in March 2017. No judge is present during a federal grand jury and it is an entirely one-sided affair. A prosecutor leads the proceeding, with the defendant not present or made aware of the case being made against him.
“Steve went to Washington to do one thing – defeat the Deep State,” Farah wrote. “There’s an old saying about the feds: If they want to get you, they have an unlimited budget and unlimited power to do so. Knowing what we now know in more graphic detail than ever before, are you surprised?”
Patti Stockman calls her husband a “political prisoner.”
“Here is my husband who’s poured decades of his life toward preserving the liberties that were guaranteed in the Constitution and he is sitting there without his own liberty,” she said. “This is bigger than Steve Stockman,” Patti added. “It’s the state of our nation. It’s Steve Stockman today; it may be your neighbor tomorrow, or even you.”