Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock tries to block release of documents

Congressman Aaron Schock speaks to the media as he arrives at an immigration reform panel hosted by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition Monday, March 9, 2015, at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. Schock resigned Tuesday amid controversy over his spending habits. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Caitlin Wilson, Reboot Illinois

The legal battle of former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, is still being waged by his attorneys and federal prosecutors over which congressional documents Schock must turn over to the courts as potential evidence of his possible mishandling of campaign and taxpayer money during his time in office.

Schock’s lawyers told the court Aug. 21 that their client owns some of the congressional records sought by the court and doesn’t have to turn them in under the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Schock was almost held in contempt of court the day before, for the second time, for refusing to hand the documents in: On Thursday, the top federal prosecutor in the case asked U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough in Springfield to consider holding Schock in contempt of court for failing to produce documents.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass wrote in a court filing Thursday that “No court has recognized that a public official … has a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment to avoid the compelled production of publicly-funded, non-private, public or official records within his official … office.”

Another hearing meant to resolve the records questions is set for Aug. 28 in Springfield as a federal grand jury continues its investigation of Schock’s spending during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, which ended when he resigned in March.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet spoke with one of Schock’s former congressional staffers, Ben Cole about the Instagram-famous representative’s time in office. Cole was Schock’s communications director for about a year before he resigned when his racially charged social media posts caught the attention of media outlets in February, around the same time that Schock’s spending came into public question.

Cole got caught up in the spotlight of the situation when he tried to deter a Washington Post reporter from publishing a story about Schock’s office, newly redecorated with red walls, pheasant feathers, and bronze busts of political figures, in the style of the British show “Downton Abbey.”

He told Sweet how the whole thing began: Cole said that one day in January, he was with Schock in the newly painted fire-engine red office, where some decorative items were already in place.

Cole recalled that Schock asked him what he thought of the work in progress. Cole said he told him, “This looks like Liberace’s drawing room. It’s way overdone, and I don’t think this is good.”

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The red office, Cole thought, was going to raise “all the wrong kinds of questions. It’s going to reinforce all the narratives that Aaron wishes would go away.”

Cole was worried that Schock’s fame for his stylized Instagram posts, his celebrity photo ops and his appearance on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine was making it hard for Schock to be taken seriously as a policy maker.

He knew that the fancy office would be just one more thing that would make a reporter or the public wonder what was really going on with his congressional business. From the Sun-Times: Cole said he started to worry about a potential problem — more significant than Schock’s globetrotting image — as the gaudy office furnishings were delivered in January.

Cole suspected, correctly as it turned out, that the outlandish office would inspire reporters to start asking questions about costs and payments for the remodeling.

“I thought, as soon as someone writes a story about this office, somebody is going to be asking, ‘Well, how else does he spend money?'”

So he took it upon himself to find out.

Cole realized that Schock’s spending didn’t totally check out — mileage for official trips was off, and the media reported about Schock’s unofficial trips that weren’t documented properly.

But Cole thought it was just bad administrative work, not deception on the congressman’s part. He said he had planned to talk to Schock to get it all straightened out, but never got the chance. He resigned after the race-related Facebook posts surfaced, the writing of which Cole told Sweet he regrets.

With his inside knowledge of the congressional office, Cole had information that could be valuable to federal prosecutors who are trying to build a case against the congressman.

He was subpoenaed to speak in front of the grand jury in Springfield in May and still is answering the questions of investigators.

He says he wanted to make sure to tell Sweet that he’s not as incompetent as some media outlets portrayed him during the thick of the scandal. He just wanted to control the message coming out of Schock’s office until he could warn Schock about the possible discrepancies in his records and get it all straightened out.

Cole thought that with a little time, “I could work to mitigate any negative fallout, correct errors that had been made and set the office on a better footing.”

Caitlin Wilson is a staff writer for Reboot Illinois. Images by Nancy Stone, a photographer for the Chicago Tribune.