Iowa Democratic operative retains high-powered Republican defense attorney

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker will represent Zach Edwards, a Democratic operative who is charged with attempting identity theft against Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

Edwards was arrested in Des Moines on January 20:

According to the Criminal Complaint, on June 24, 2011, Edwards fraudulently used, or attempted to use, the identity of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and/or Secretary Schultz’s brother, Thomas Schultz, with the intent to obtain a benefit, in an alleged scheme to falsely implicate Secretary Schultz in perceived illegal or unethical behavior while in office.

A former staffer for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in Iowa, Edwards was working for the Democratic consulting firm Link Strategies at the time of the alleged crime. Jeff Link fired Edwards on the day charges were filed and distanced himself from Edwards’ alleged actions in comments to the media.

After running unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2002, Whitaker became U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa during George W. Bush’s administration. He went into private practice after Obama became president, and his Whitaker Hagenow law firm is home to several up-and-coming Iowa Republicans. Senior partner Chris Hagenow has served in the Iowa House since 2009. Brenna Findley joined the firm in 2010, while she was running for attorney general. (She left to become Governor Terry Branstad’s legal counsel.) Another partner in Whitaker Hagenow is William Gustoff, whom Branstad named to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. The Iowa Senate declined to confirm Gustoff.

Whitaker has remained active in Iowa Republican politics, co-chairing the presidential campaigns of Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry last year.

When I contacted Whitaker today to check whether he is representing Edwards, Whitaker made clear that he “only confirmed my representation, nothing else” in published reports about the case.

You might think a Republican “rising star” is an odd choice of defense attorney for a Democrat, but having a well-known Republican counsel may help Edwards if this case goes to trial. The criminal complaint suggests that the prosecution will attempt to show the alleged identity theft was politically motivated. Edwards is scheduled to appear in court on January 30. I haven’t seen any report indicating what plea he will enter. I assume “not guilty,” since he has retained a high-powered attorney. UPDATE: Edwards entered a plea of “not guilty” on January 27 “and avoided a preliminary hearing that was scheduled for Monday [January 30].”

Craig Robinson speculates that representing Edwards could have a downside for Whitaker:

Edwards is an odd client for the politically ambitious Whitaker. Many Iowa Republicans are disturbed by Edwards’ actions. Many believe that Whitaker is interested in running for office again, but defending a Democrat operative who tried to steal a Republican office holder’s identity would surely become an issue in a primary.

Edwards was employed by Link Strategies, a Democrat-affiliated organization with ties to a number of prominent Democrat elected officials such as Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Bruce Braley. The firm’s founder, Jeff Link, held a fundraiser for former Iowa Secretary of State Mike Mauro in 2009. Iowa campaign disclosures show that Link contributed $3,033.97 worth of food and beverages to the Mauro campaign. Edwards was the Director of New Media for Link Strategies.

I don’t believe that taking this case hurts Whitaker. Defense attorneys are not known for being afraid to represent potentially unpopular clients. Whitaker’s last high-profile criminal defendant was Wendy Runge, one of the film producers charged in connection with misusing Iowa tax credits. Runge ended up pleading guilty in that case.

In a “small world” twist, the attorney who set up Runge’s Iowa film company was a former law partner of Matt Schultz in Council Bluffs. Iowa Democrats tried to make an issue out of that connection late in Schultz’s 2010 campaign against Secretary of State Mike Mauro, but critics never produced evidence that Schultz was in any way involved in Runge’s business affairs.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • if my employer

    a Dem-affiliated firm did the following:

    1. stated that he determined I “acted alone” instead of saying that I deserved a fair trial, and

    2. fired me immediately

    I’m sure I’d want a Republican lawyer as well.

    • Interesting topic

      Robinson is right, but I would hope that Whitaker takes on clients that he genuinely believes are either innocent or at least in need of representation, regardless of party or ideology.

      Arlen Specter (who was still a Republican at the time) was the loudest supporter of the entrapment defense when the Larry Craig scandal broke, I wouldn’t say that Specter and Craig really agreed on a ton of the hot button issues of the day.

      Ted Olson is another attorney who is willing to stand on principle when he is taking a case as well, at least that’ my perception of Olson’s work.  

      The law should know no ideological stripes really.  

      • it is interesting

        Link said in public that Edwards “acted alone” after talking to him. Gee, why not say: guilty as charged.

        IMO, the “in need of representation” is well-established. He needs a good defense attorney, and that’s what I thought when the story originally broke with the Link quote.

      • regardless of party or ideology.

        I have been thinking about this aspect of your comment, because I find it rough sledding.

        The conservatives are in an uproar over Whitaker because they think they’ve found a smoking gun to Obama/OFA. I kind of doubt that myself. I think it’s in-house, all-Iowa, and this guy Edwards, whether innocent or guilty, got caught up in the inter-party crossfire like the little expendable that he is.

        SOS Project! Soros! Obama! I just giggle a bit. It’s not hard to see that the Dems are still smarting over the 2010 drubbing, and Mr. Schultz of Counciltucky is considered perhaps the greatest usurper of them all. My view is that this is what the 2014 elections are for.

        I suspect Whitaker already knows that this case ain’t all that. Reading the complaint and holding a glass against the wall to catch the gossip, I gather that perhaps some silly blog 3-part series that publicized emails allegedly from the inner sanctum of the IA-SOS were procured by some sort of Fake-Email-Check-Link-or-Reply-To type twicky-twick. Use the term “for benefit” loosely here — the expose was on the humdrum and mundane side, some pearl-clutching over whether SOS-bro was too hot for Santorum while, well, being SOS-bro. I feel sorry for Whitaker if he has to read through it all.

        The take-home lesson is to not allow your blog or comments to “benefit” those who want to remain hidden behind a curtain. Don’t be surprised when your new best-est friends are changing their phone numbers.

        Post-election, Justice Wiggins headed up a nominating commission that, IMO, sought to embarrass Branstad by giving him one African American woman with extremely liberal views as the only opportunity to add a (only one!) woman to the IA-SC. I do not agree w/ the view that some hold that Branstad should have been consistent by supporting both Isiah McGee and Angela Onwuachi-Willig. Clearly Prof Onwuachi-Willig is completely incompatible with the Branstad agenda.

        I am actually enough of a dweeb who will review the public video relevant to the nominating process, but I smell a rat when good women candidates who went further in previous years couldn’t get to first base here. It is not certain, but it is likely that in November I will be voting ‘NO’ on Wiggins because I’m not convinced that certain applicants were reviewed fairly due to their race and gender. They never had a chance because their inclusion didn’t serve to put Branstad on the spot, and this is an act of judicial incompetence, IMO.

        Come the fall, my position will not be politically popular because I’m supposed to rearrange my life around what BVP may do. I care not a whit. My position is completely non-ideological. If I feel that the nom process to the IA-SC (of all things) was not equal opportunity, then the chief offender should go.

        But the retention vote will be caught up in a BVP grudge match. As usual, it will be all about marriage rights, as though tolerance isn’t about the more difficult problem of balancing interests. What will be completely lost is an honest evaluation of Wiggins’ judicial temperament. It’s just going to be the usual us-them mud-wrestling.

        It just seems to get harder and harder to apply basic principles of fairness and justice regardless of party or ideology. I do think Whitaker will “luck out” here, though, because the spoils aren’t going to be on the order of even a BVP grudge match. It will just be a low-brow attempt to embarrass Schultz that fizzled like a dud sparkler on the Fourth of July, which, as often is the case with failures, will have no proud parents or official sponsors.


  • Schultz

    I don’t know what a good answer is to the problem.  Schultz clearly wants to run for something else as Culver did. Schultz would be a better nominee against Harkin or generic Democrat than most of their other options.  

    Branstad didn’t stand up for all of his appointees because he doesn’t care enough and he doesn’t understand why the legislature would argue about the proper way to tie shoes if they could.

    I always viewed Branstad as a bit of a Gerald Ford Republican, sure he’s kinda conservative (a bit more than Ford was), but he’s not a movement conservative.  He’s not going to stick his neck out so true right wingers can change social policy in Iowa.

    If BVP had the understanding of state government that say a Chris Rants had he could have defeated Branstad.  Screaming you raised taxes thirty seven times is not enough substance.  

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.