Former Rep. Aaron Schock is demanding the dismissal of a 24-count criminal indictment charging him with diverting government funds and campaign accounts for his personal use.
In a broad motion filed Thursday in federal court in Urbana, Illinois, Schock’s attorneys argue that the indictment amounts to an unconstitutional intrusion by the executive branch into the internal operations and rules of the House of Representatives.
"This Court sits to hear alleged violations of the federal criminal code; it does not sit as the Court of Appeals of the House Finance Office. Nor can the Executive fashion itself a super-regulator of the Legislature’s own internal administration," Schock’s lawyers wrote. "By usurping the constitutional prerogative of the House to make and interpret its own rules, the Indictment trespasses the separation of powers."
Schock allegedly pocketed more than $100,000 in improper mileage reimbursements, as well as camera equipment, and proceeds from selling tickets to the World Series and Super Bowl. Schock is also accused of using front corporation to make money from an annual constituent "fly-in," the indictment states. He resigned in 2015 after a wave of problematic press accounts, including several POLITICO stories, calling attention to a redecoration of his office and to unusual expense payments he received.
Schock’s legal team—headed by George Terwilliger and Robert Bittman of McGuire Woods—contends that the indictment runs afoul of several Constitutional provisions, including the clause immunizing lawmakers from legal consequences related to Congressional speech or debate and another section allowing the House and Senate to set their own rules.
Schock’s attorneys also argue that the House’s rules for expenses are "inherently ambiguous," rendering them too vague to be the basis for criminal charges.
Prosecutors are likely to respond that giving House members such broad protection from prosecution would prevent their prosecution for almost any type of theft of government funds.
It’s unclear how the charges of misuse of campaign funds raise concerns about House rules or protection for legislative acts, but Schock’s defense argues that the overall case and investigation was so tainted by the intrusion into Congressional prerogatives that all the charges must be thrown out.
"These numerous flaws pollute the entire Indictment and are so inextricably linked with the Indictment as a whole that dismissal is warranted of all of the counts," Schock’s attorneys wrote.
Another defense motion filed Tuesday seeks dismissal of five fraud counts against Schock on the grounds that the offense in question was created as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley law aimed at securities fraud and should not be read to apply to political conduct.
U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce, who was assigned to the case after the first federal judge recused at Schock’s urging, has set a jury trial in the case for July 10. He’s tentatively planning for a five-week trial.
However, at least one of the new defense motions could lead to delays in any trial for Schock. Even if he doesn’t persuade Bruce to dismiss the case, the ex-congressman could appeal any negative ruling on the speech-or-debate clause issue to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago or even to the Supreme Court. Those moves could set the trial back for months or longer.