Matthew Whitaker’s unconstitutional gig as acting attorney general isn’t his first go-round at Republican “justice.” After Whitaker’s first failed political campaign, George W. Bush gifted him with Republican welfare in the form of an appointment to U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Iowa. Whitaker then used that office in a blatantly political attempt to take down the state’s first openly gay senator with a bribery case that “fell apart” when he tried to take it to court.
As reported by the Associated Press, Whitaker used his position to generate politically motivated charges against state senator Matt McCoy “a rising star in the Democratic Party, Iowa’s first openly gay senator and a leading champion for the party’s causes.”
In 2007, Whitaker held a press conference to declare that a grand jury had charged McCoy with attempted extortion—bringing a potential penalty of 20 years in prison. But the case that McCoy had given the grand jury was based on a trap that Whitaker spent months building in which he wired up a “paid informant” in an attempt to press money on McCoy. The problem was that Whitaker’s informant had an actual business arrangement with a company owned by McCoy, and the “bribes” he recorded were actually payments to that company.
At trial, McCoy’s attorneys charged prosecutorial misconduct, pointing out that the videos Whitaker showed jurors had been edited to leave out the business relationship and to exclude the senator turning down a personal payment. Whitaker also left out the fact that the person putting checks in front of McCoy had been paid repeatedly by the FBI. And it wasn’t just the jury Whitaker failed to inform that the whole thing had been a paid setup—he also didn’t inform McCoy’s defense attorneys.
But the information came out before trial, and when the jurors heard the truth it didn’t take them long to reach a decision. Whitaker spent nine days trying to make his case, the jurors were back in less than two hours “including a long lunch break.” McCoy was vindicated, and the Des Moines Register had a comment that seems oddly familiar in describing Whitaker’s motivations.
“It has all the earmarks of a politically motivated witch hunt.”
After the trial, McCoy’s supporters cheered his victory, but the lengthy legal action by Whitaker left the senator and businessman broke and discouraged.
McCoy said that he continues to suffer from the reputational damage and is still paying off the $100,000 in legal fees he incurred fighting the charge. When he was considering a run for Congress last year in a seat a Democrat captured in Tuesday’s election, a national publication brought his indictment back up in what he called a damaging story.
Matthew Whitaker may not have gotten a victory in court, and he may have barely skated away from charges of prosecutorial misconduct after admitting “mistakes,” but he clearly got the results he wanted—sidelining a rising star of the Democratic Party, and damaging an openly gay politician both personally and financially.
During his role as a US attorney, Whitaker was a keynote speaker for an anti-gay rights group. He also declared that opposition to gay marriage was one of his “no negotiation” positions.