IOWA CITY, Iowa — In 2007, Matt McCoy was a rising star in the Democratic Party, Iowa’s first openly gay senator and a leading champion for the party’s causes.
But then, his allies say, McCoy’s promising career was stalled by a politically-motivated federal prosecution brought by a Republican U.S. attorney, Matthew G. Whitaker, who on Wednesday became nation’s top law enforcement official after President Donald Trump named him acting attorney general.
The case against McCoy fell apart in court amid allegations of political bias and prosecutorial misconduct. A jury quickly acquitted McCoy of the criminal charge, deciding that he had not attempted to extort money from a former business partner.
In an interview Thursday, McCoy said he was shocked by Whitaker’s elevation to lead the Justice Department. He said his case should serve as a warning that Whitaker will not hesitate to pursue Democrats and Trump’s desire to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Whitaker said in a statement on Wednesday that he is “committed to leading a fair Department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law, and seeks justice for all Americans.” Trump said on Twitter that Whitaker “will serve our Country well.”
McCoy faced prosecution when Whitaker was a George W. Bush appointee serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa based in Des Moines. Democrats have alleged that it was one of several prosecutions of local officials brought during the Bush years that were tainted by political considerations — an allegation that Whitaker has denied.
Whitaker announced at a news conference in March 2007 that a grand jury had charged McCoy with attempted extortion by an elected official, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He alleged that McCoy demanded and accepted $2,000 in payments from a businessman seeking to obtain a waiver to sell home security products for the elderly to Iowa’s Medicaid program, threatening to block state business if he wasn’t paid.
Whitaker’s office and the FBI spent months building a case against McCoy after Thomas Vasquez, a salesman with a history of financial, domestic and substance abuse problems, alleged that McCoy was trying to shake him down. Vasquez later agreed to be a paid informant, recording several conversations with McCoy and making what prosecutors called “bribe payments” to McCoy with money supplied by the FBI.
McCoy argued the indictment was based on out-of-context snippets of 12 hours of recorded conversations, and that his actions had an innocent explanation that his legal team shared with Whitaker early on.
In addition to being a senator, McCoy operated a consulting business. He said Vasquez, an acquaintance he met through Alcoholics Anonymous, had asked him to help market the security products as a consultant and he agreed. They signed a contract in which McCoy would be paid $100 for each unit sold. Vasquez went to the FBI after their relationship soured. McCoy said that he later accepted payments from Vasquez because he believed that he was following through with their deal.
His lawyers argued that Whitaker’s …read more