Federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah of trying to influence potential jurors with recent public statements in which he touted his accomplishments in Congress and questioned the motives of authorities handling his case.
In a motion filed in federal court, Justice Department lawyers cited Fattah's statements to reporters and a YouTube video he posted in response to a July 29 indictment charging him with racketeering conspiracy, fraud, money laundering, and other crimes.
Prosecutor Eric L. Gibson described Fattah's remarks as direct attempts to distract from the allegations lodged against him and "to interfere with a fair trial and prejudice the due administration of justice."
Gibson asked U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to bar Fattah from using such arguments as part of his defense at trial.
"This case is about [Fattah's] guilt or innocence of the charges set forth in the indictment, not about [his] purported good acts or about some supposed political motivation for the investigation or prosecution," Gibson wrote.
Fattah's camp shot back in a statement.
"The motion today is almost laughable," it said. "The Department of Justice didn't have any concerns about unduly influencing a jury when they were leaking information to the press during the eight-year investigation or when they held a nationally televised press conference on the indictment that they knew presented outright lies and half-truths."
Prosecutors have disputed the length of their probe, saying agents had only targeted the congressman directly for two years.
The Philadelphia Democrat is accused of accepting bribes and misusing campaign funds, charitable donations, and federal grant money he controlled to pay off debts and line the pockets of his family and close circle of allies.
He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing - most vocally in a letter last week to a House committee in which he accused prosecutors of using "unlawful and unconstitutional" tactics, and called for a congressional probe into the FBI's investigation of his affairs.
In the YouTube video, posted a day later, he touted his record in landing millions of dollars in federal funding for education, job training, mortgage relief, and brain research. "I have helped more young people in our city, region, and country than anyone else that can be identified," he said.
In his motion Wednesday, however, Gibson countered, "Fattah's work on these issues as a congressman is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence of the charges in the indictment."