A three-judge panel of a federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected former Rep. Aaron Schock’s effort to throw out his criminal indictment, a major setback for the Illinois Republican’s efforts to avoid a trial on corruption charges.
Schock can appeal the decision, in part, to the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, or to the Supreme Court. Barring a dramatic reversal, however, the criminal proceedings against Schock will move forward.
Schock resigned from Congress in March 2015 and was indicted in November 2016 for wire fraud, mail fraud, filing false federal tax returns, submitting inaccurate reports to the Federal Election Commission, making false statements and theft of government funds.
He has been fighting the indictment in court, arguing that federal prosecutors overstepped their bounds when they charged him. A district court judge rejected Schock’s motion to dismiss the case last fall, but Schock’s defense team appealed that ruling.
Schock's defense team is still reviewing the ruling and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The most serious charges against Schock are based on allegations that he illegally pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursement claims after submitting false car mileage reports. POLITICO first reported these allegations.
Shock’s arguments for appealing the indictment centered on two main points. First, under the “Speech or Debate Clause,” a constitutional protection given to lawmakers and staff for legitimate legislative activities, he can’t be charged with falsifying reimbursement claims.
Secondly, in a more technical argument, Schock’s lawyers asserted that since reimbursement regulations were created by House rule, it would be a violation of separation-of-powers principles for the executive branch, via the Justice Department, to charge him with a crime. Under Schock's approach, only the House could interpret whether he violated House rules.
The appeals court rejected both arguments.
“On the merits, however, the Speech or Debate Clause does not help Schock, for a simple reason: the indictment arises out of applications for reimbursements, which are not speeches, debates, or any other part of the legislative process,” wrote Chief Judge Diane Wood, along with Judges Joel Flaum and Frank Easterbrook. “Charges of the kind brought against Schock have featured in criminal prosecutions of other legislators, and Speech-or-Debate defenses to those charges have failed.”
The judges added: “The foundation for Schock’s argument — the proposition that if Body A has sole power to make a rule, then Body A has sole power to interpret that rule — does not represent established doctrine. Microsoft Corporation has the sole power to establish rules about how much its employees will be reimbursed for travel expenses, but no one thinks that this prevents a criminal prosecution of persons who submit fraudulent claims for reimbursement or fail to pay tax on the difference between their actual expenses and the amount they receive from Microsoft.”
As for the separation-of-powers issues, the appeals court said it is not yet ripe for a decision. The case must move forward to trial, and if Schock is found guilty, he can then appeal.
“We need not come to closure on the question whether there is something special about legislative rules… unless we have appellate jurisdiction,” Wood, Flaum and Easterbook wrote. “Otherwise final resolution of Schock’s arguments must await an appeal from a final decision, should he be convicted.”