Writing in Politico, the state senator representing Iowa’s 21st District recalled how President Donald Trump’s acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, harassed him, with the help of the FBI, in 2006 in a case that was eventually thrown out by a jury after 25 minutes.
According to Sen. Matt McCoy (D) — an openly gay man — he first became aware that then-U.S. Attorney Whitaker initiated an investigation against him when FBI agents came knocking on his door.
“They informed me that I was being investigated about issues related to bribery and violation of the Hobbs Act,” McCoy recalled. “As I tried to recall what the Hobbs Act entailed (robbery and extortion, mostly), they prolonged their visit by pressing ‘play’ on a tape recorder. I was shocked to hear a conversation I had conducted with my business colleague, Tom Vasquez.”
“That conversation detailed a dispute we had, regarding my consulting with Vasquez about a business that sold monitoring systems for senior citizens in Iowa,” McCoy continued. “The federal government believed that in my demanding that payment for those services, and threatening to strike out on my own as a competitor, I had made what amounted to a threat to use the power of my office against him.”
According to the lawmaker, the FBI later told him that, “If I gave them the names of other elected officials engaged in illegal activities, the District Court might be inclined to look favorably on me. The district office was led by a prosecutor named Matt Whitaker, then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.”
As McCoy notes, “David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register wrote at the time: ‘It appears the U.S. attorney, Matt Whitaker, is aggressively going after the city’s south-side Democratic organization and the way it does business.'”
“The FBI paid Vasquez to record 12 hours of our conversations,” McCoy explained, adding, “They turned over the tapes to the grand jury. The jury returned a one-count indictment against me for attempted extortion under the Hobbs Act, which more specifically is a federal anti-racketeering law used in cases involving public corruption. It sets a low bar for conviction of public officials.”
However, once the case went to trial, the testimony of Vasquez fell apart, with the witness stating “I can’t recall” and “I don’t remember” in response to over 100 questions.
Saying the jury spent a scant 25 minutes deliberating before finding him innocent, McCoy said that federal prosecuting attorneys who had been flown in to try the case put the blame on Whitaker’s Iowa office.
According to the Democrat, Whitaker had a motive for the trumped-up case.
“Whitaker’s office clearly wanted to give the evangelical right within the Republican Party a trophy, and that trophy was me—one of the state’s most prominent young Democrats at the time,” he wrote before warning, “People should be very concerned with Whitaker’s elevation to acting attorney general. The DOJ is supposed to be blind to politics. Whitaker clearly is not.”
You can read more about the politically-inspired harassment here.