U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah is hoping that a revelation that emerged during his son’s federal trial can be used to unravel the 29-count indictment he’s facing for allegedly running campaign finance schemes to advance his political career.
In October, before a jury convicted Fattah’s son, Chip Fattah, on bank and tax fraud charges, FBI special agent Richard Haag took the stand. Haag was the lead investigator on both Fattah cases.
Under oath, Haag testified that he tipped off a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter in 2012 about a federal raid of the younger Fattah’s residence, something Chip Fattah had long believed. That led him to file a civil lawsuit arguing that the publicity generated by the tip-off tarnished his career, which consisted of, as he put it, being a “entrepreneur, socialite and lifestyle mogul.”
In a Friday filing in the elder Fattah’s case, the congressman asked for a hearing on the subject of Haag before his trial on the federal charges begins in May. Was other information about the FBI’s dual investigations leaked? Answering that question, Fattah contended, could demonstrate that both probes were carried out improperly.
“If a government agent reveals grand jury information, then Defendant Fattah has the right to seek remedies ranging from contempt charges against the agent to a dismissal of the indictment,” Fattah’s attorney Riley Ross wrote.
Although Haag said under oath that he did not leak any grand jury material, Fattah argued that prior federal cases have established that Haag’s admission was indeed a grand jury matter and therefore can lead to “possible injustice in this matter.”
Fattah, whom federal prosecutors say accepted bribes from a lobbyist and misappropriated hundreds of thousands of federal dollars, called the dynamic Haag established with the Inquirer reporter, Martha Woodall, a “quid-pro-quo relationship.”
“A reasonable person would conclude that the information about each subject matter that Agent Haag related to Woodall was also placed before the grand jury,” attorney Ross said in the filing.
It’s now up to the government, Fattah said, to explain why Haag has not been held in contempt of court.
Fattah is additionally after “all discussions between prosecutors and grand jurors concerning the grand jury investigation” to figure out if more than just the raid tip was leaked by Haag or other federal investigators.
And if more was leaked, Fattah said, “a ground will exist to dismiss the indictment.”
Also filed on Friday, those charged along with Fattah in the corruption case are asking to be tried separate, or for charges to be dismissed altogether.
Bonnie Bowser and Karen Nichols, two former Fattah aides, are saying in court filings that the racketeering, or RICO, charges should be thrown out because they were not directly connected to the alleged activity.
Prosecutors allege the 11-term congressman was bribed by a lobbyist who wanted to be appointed as an ambassador by the White House. The indictment also claims that he used campaign money to pay his son’s college debt. Fattah maintains that he’s innocent, and he’s seeking a 12th term in Congress.
The lobbyist in question, Herbert Vederman, asked the court on Friday to be tried separately. He said being in the same courtroom as Fattah will make him look “guilty by association” to the jury.
Co-defendant Robert Brand, a Fattah campaign contributor, is also asking for a separate trial because, he said, the “inflammatory” evidence brought against Fattah is “irrelevant and highly prejudicial” to him. It risks confusing the jury into believing that all the evidence against Fattah also involves him, Brand added.
In addition to the argument that Fattah should wage a solo battle against the prosecutors, Brand’s attorney wrote that if all five defendants stood trial at once, the evidence would be too overwhelming for the court. It would include 900,000 documents, he wrote, which sounds burdensome.