In home state, new acting AG Whitaker was accused of playing politics with justice

Acting Attorney General Whitaker accused of targeting opponents in past

(CNN) - An Iowa state legislator has said new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker once targeted him with a politically-motivated investigation and is unfit to serve.

Matt McCoy, who has served in the Iowa Senate for more than 20 years, claims Whitaker targeted him years ago because he was a Democrat and openly gay.

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked out of the Department of Justice and shook hands with Whitaker on Wednesday, McCoy was aghast.

"Well, I initially thought, I can’t think of a more ill-qualified person to assume that role based on my experience with him,” McCoy, who became the first openly gay member of the Iowa Legislature in 1993, said.

In 2007, McCoy was a rising star in Iowa's Democratic Party. At the same time, Whitaker was the young, conservative, Republican U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.

That year Whitaker charged McCoy with “attempted extortion by a public official,” setting off a two-year saga for the Democratic lawmaker.

“I absolutely believe that’s why I was targeted,” he said of his political affiliation.

The federal indictment was brief.

McCoy said it was a $2,000 business dispute with a private consulting client who wouldn't pay a bill.

Those facts didn't matter to Whitaker, he said, who brought the full weight of the federal government against him.

"I believe it was a political prosecution, there’s no doubt in my mind, I’m 100 percent certain that it was,” McCoy said.

The U.S. attorney’s office, under Whitaker’s direction, spent more than two years going after McCoy, using the FBI, a paid informant, secret recordings and a special prosecutor.

And, after two years, it took a jury mere minutes to reach a not guilty verdict.

"I was acquitted within 20 minutes,” McCoy said.

Whitaker was criticized heavily in Iowa's press, with reporters questioning why McCoy was prosecuted and legendary Des Moines Register editor Gil Cranberg asking if Whitaker’s case was "misplaced zeal or partisan politicking?"

McCoy said that for a decision that would have embarrassed most U.S. attorneys, Whitaker never apologized.

Whitaker's career sputtered after he left the U.S. attorney's office in 2009.

He tried and failed to become an Iowa Supreme Court justice, he failed in a run for Senate and he seemed to have limited success in private practice.

Then in 2014, using the legal system as a political weapon, he found an entirely new career.

Backed by conservative Republican donors, Whitaker became director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust – FACT.

The nonprofit claims it is dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government - by demanding the truth.

Under Whitaker's leadership, critics say it became a tool to attack Democrats through the legal system.

FACT went after dozens of Democrats, Democratic organizations and especially Hillary Clinton. They filed ethics complaints, federal election commission complaints, anything they could to legally hamstring Democrats.

"I think when you're looking at an organization that is focused almost exclusively on investigating individuals of one party and one political persuasion, and that the head of that organization is now going to be installed as the attorney general of the entire United States, that sets off a number of alarm bells,” said Sarah Turberville, director of The Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight.

McCoy said he doesn't need alarms bells. His history gives him enough reason to be frightened by the prospect of Whitaker in a position of power.

"It's very frightening because I know how pliable he is,” he said.

The Justice Department defended Whitaker’s decision to prosecute McCoy in a statement late Friday. They said it was his responsibility to try cases where there were credible accusations of criminal activity.

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