Aaron Schock always has been an awesome character. At 23, he won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, becoming the youngest member in state history. At 27, he won a race for the Illinois 18thÂ Congressional district, becoming the youngest member of Congress. He was a Republican star, a prodigious fundraiser,Â raising more than $11 millionÂ for his congressional campaigns. An exercise aficionado, he once appeared onÂ the coverÂ of Menâ€™s Health magazine. He got in trouble with the Washington Post forÂ decorating his DC officeÂ in the luxurious style of the British period drama, â€œDownton Abbey.â€
Thatâ€™s when it all came crashing down. Washington had a good laugh over Schockâ€™s cover shoot and interior decorating, but questions about improper spending mounted and in March 2015, he resigned from Congress. And there was nothing funny about theÂ federal indictmentÂ that came twenty months later, a few days after the 2016 election. The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois charged Schock with 24 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, theft, false statements and filing false documents.
The indictment,Â reported the Post, â€œalleged that the former congressman from Peoria, Ill.,Â reimbursed himself for 150,000 miles he never drove, bought a new 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe for his exclusive use with campaign committee funds, and reimbursed himself with congressional funds for camera equipment purchased for himself and his personal photographer. It alleges that Schock used government and campaign money to take a private plane with a group to Chicago for a Bears football game, and remodeled his Illinois apartment and Capitol Hill office â€” paying those who did the thousands of dollarsâ€™ worth of work at least in part from government and campaign funds.â€
The total tab for the misdeeds: $100,000
Schock was, well, shocked. â€œI simply cannot believe it has come to this,â€ he said in a statement after the indictment. He said his campaign team â€œmight have made errors among a few of the thousands and thousands of financial transactions we conducted, but they were honest mistakesâ€”no one intended to break any laws.â€
Schock hired a powerhouse lawyer, former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger, who hit back at the government. The Schock indictment, Terwilliger said, was â€œjust made-up allegations of criminal activity arising from unintentional administrative errors.â€
But something more sinister was at work as well, Terwilliger suggested. This was a case of prosecutorial misconduct and government overreach. â€œCriminalizing a handful of administrative mistakes, a few of the thousands of transactions from Aaronâ€™s 6 years in office, to charge Mr. Schock two days after a national election has all the appearances of a politically calculated ambush,â€ Terwilliger said.
The case soon went south. Erroneous expense reimbursements were not crimes, Terwilliger argued, and Schock had admitted his errors immediately on learning of them. Rumors circulated that prosecutors were probing whether Schock wasÂ gay. Investigators may haveÂ illegally seized documentsÂ from Schockâ€™s congressional office. The trial judge in the case was removed after improper communications with a member of the U.S. attorneyâ€™s office. The lead prosecutor in the case, Tim Bass,Â stepped asideÂ in July.
It turns out that Bass harbored political ambitions of his own. Bass had once said it would be an â€œhonor and privilege to be considered to lead the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office in the future,â€Â according to the Chicago Tribune, and his ambitions for the post were anÂ open secretÂ in Illinois.
Bassâ€™s role in the case appears to have been the last straw. The Justice Department was forced to take action. The case was removed from the Central District of Illinois and moved to Chicago. Soon, theÂ charges were dropped.
Schock told reporters that there was â€œno doubtâ€ he had been targeted by Bassâ€™s office. â€œIt became very obvious to all of us that he saw me as his ticket to stardom.â€ Read George Terwilligerâ€™s analysis of the caseÂ here.
Aaron Schockâ€™s ordeal is over. But he would be within his rights to ask the question first posed by another Republican driven from public service by false charges and later cleared at trial. â€œWhich office do I go to,â€Â said former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, â€œto get my reputation back?â€
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips:Â firstname.lastname@example.org
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