(IOWA CITY, Iowa) – In 2007, Matt McCoy was a rising star in the Democratic Party, Iowa & # 39; s first openly gay senator and a leading champion for the causes of the party.
But then, his allies say, McCoy's promising career was stalled by a politically motivated federal prosecution brought by a Republican lawyer, Matthew G. Whitaker, who on Wednesday became the country's foremost law enforcement official after President Donald Trump took him as acting. Prosecutor General.
The case against McCoy fell apart in court because of allegations of political bias and misconduct. A jury quickly dismissed McCoy from the criminal charges and decided that he had not tried to extort money from a former business partner.
In an interview on Thursday, McCoy said he was startled by Whitaker's increase to lead the Ministry of Justice. He said his case should serve as a warning that Whitaker will not hesitate to pursue Democrats and Trump's desire to curtail special advice from Robert Mueller.
Whitaker said in a statement by Wednesday that he is "committed to leading an honest department with the highest ethical standards, maintaining the rule of law and seeking justice for all Americans." Trump said on Twitter that Whitaker & # 39; will serve our country well & # 39 ;.
McCoy was prosecuted when Whitaker was an associate of George W. Bush who was the American lawyer for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines. Democrats have claimed that it was one of the many prosecutions of local officials who were affected by political considerations during the Bush years – an allegation that Whitaker denied.
Whitaker announced at a press conference in March 2007 that a grand jury McCoy had attempted extortion by an elected official, a crime that contained a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He claimed that McCoy had demanded and accepted $ 2000 for payments from a businessman who wanted a waiver to sell domestic security products for the elderly to the Iowa Medicaid program, and threatened to block state activities if he was not 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 alcohol and drug abuse problems, claimed that McCoy was trying to shake him off. Vasquez later agreed to be a paid informant, made several interviews with McCoy and made what the prosecutors called "bribe payments" to McCoy with money being delivered by the FBI.
McCoy argued that the charge was based on out-of-context fragments of 12 hours of recorded conversations and that his actions had an innocent statement that his legal team had shared with Whitaker at an early stage.
In addition to a senator, McCoy served a consulting company. He said that Vasquez, a friend he met through Anonymous Alcoholics, had asked him to market the security products as an advisor and he agreed to that. They signed a contract in which McCoy would be paid $ 100 for each unit sold. Vasquez went to the FBI after their relationship was soured. McCoy said he later accepted payments from Vasquez because he believed he was following their deal.
His attorneys argued that Whitaker's office had committed prosecution practices by not playing for the grand jury points of the recordings that were exculpatory – such as refusing a single payment from Vasquez and instructing him to write checks to his company. Whitaker's office denied any wrongdoing. But it did recognize that one of his prosecutors made a mistake by withholding information that showed that the FBI repeatedly paid Vasquez in cash for his cooperation – information that appeared weeks before the trial and stunned the defense. Vasquez, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2001, testified at a hearing that he probably used part of the FBI money to buy drugs.
A federal judge refused to dismiss the case and ruled that any problems with the prosecutor did not reach the highest limit needed to provide that solution.
After a nine-day trial period, jurors answered their acquittal within two hours – including a long lunch break. McCoy & # 39; s supporters cheered outside the courthouse. But by then, McCoy had exhausted all his cash for his defense.
One of his former lawyers, Marc Beltrame, recalled that some jurors felt so bad about McCoy's ordeal that they apologized afterwards.
The case struck Iowa Democrats and some media observers as a misuse of power.
"Why should the federal government contact, engage and pay an informer without checking him – or worse, even though he knew he was notorious? It has all the characteristics of a politically motivated witch hunt," columnist Rekha Basu wrote. from Des Moines, after the acquittal.
Whitaker later said in a statement that he respected the outcome and said: "All the evidence was heard by the jury in public session and they made their decision."
McCoy said he is still suffering from reputational damage and is still paying the $ 100,000 in legal fees he incurred to fight the charges. When he considered organizing a Congressional Congress last year on a chair that captured a Democrat during Tuesday's election, a national publication brought back his accusation into what he called a harmful story. He chose not to run to Congress and instead campaigned for the Board of Supervisors of Polk County, leaving his long-time president in the Democratic Primary earlier this year.
McCoy said he believes that Whitaker was chasing him in part because of his openly homosexual lifestyle. He noted that Whitaker was a keynote speaker while he was the American lawyer at an event for the Christian coalition, which opposed LGBT rights.
"I still carry this around my neck – both the financial burden and the emotional scars," he said. "This all happened so that Whitaker could get a political trophy on the wall and it was me."