CHICAGO – Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock asked a federal judge Thursday to throw out his corruption case, arguing that the charges are grounded on ambiguous House spending rules and that his prosecution undermines longstanding protections for members of Congress.
The 2016 indictment accuses the once-rising GOP star of illegally seeking reimbursement in government funds for lavish spending, including $5,000 on a chandelier for his Washington office, which he was redecorating in the style of the “Downton Abbey” TV series.
Schock’s new filing points to a host of House rules that it says are imprecise, including ones barring reimbursement for the purchase of “furniture.” The rules don’t define the word and, it says, it’s “entirely unclear whether [a chandelier] would be considered furniture.”
In a filing earlier this week, prosecutors denied allegations Schock’s attorneys made in March that investigators crossed legal lines by recruiting a confidential informant from Schock’s staff. Thursday’s filing doesn’t directly address that issue.
Schock, who resigned in 2015 as scrutiny of his spending intensified, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include wire fraud, theft of government funds and falsification of election commission filings. His trial is set to begin July 10.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield, Sharon Paul, declined to comment on Schock’s new filing.
In it, Schock’s attorneys said the House often intends for spending rules to be vague in order to give legislators latitude in how to spend.
“Because Congress, and Congress alone, possesses the constitutional power to create and enforce House rules, a criminal prosecution cannot be premised on ... interpretation of ambiguous House rules,” it says.
Doing so strikes at a foundation of the American system of government, the separation of powers, the attorneys wrote.
“The wide-ranging Indictment against Mr. Schock repeatedly trespasses on land the Constitution reserves for Congress,” they wrote, adding that the rules are “so ambiguous as to invite” arbitrary enforcement by the country’s U.S. attorneys.
Schock first garnered national attention after appearing on the cover of Men’s Health showing off his six-pack abs.
He also successfully marketed himself during six years in Congress as an unwavering fiscal conservative.
If convicted of wire fraud, Schock could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.