The indictment of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza on two counts of campaign violations recalls a 2008 case involving famed lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who was ultimately acquitted of all charges.
D'Souza — author, pundit, and producer of a devastating documentary on President Barack Obama — was charged in federal court with contributing $20,000 to a political campaign in 2012 while the legal limit was $5,000, and allegedly promising to reimburse others if they would contribute to an unnamed Senate candidate.
D'Souza will be arraigned in New York on Jan. 31 and faces one count of making illegal donations, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, and one count of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Fieger, best known as the longtime attorney for the late assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, was charged with 10 counts of illegally reimbursing employees $127,000 for donations to the 2004 presidential campaign of fellow Democrat John Edwards.
Fieger was acquitted in June 2008 of all 10 counts in federal court.
"The federal district judge instructed the jury that what Mr. Fieger had freely admitted, namely, reimbursing his employees, his friends, and family for their contributions to John Edwards' campaign for president, was illegal," recalled Fieger's attorney, legendary trial lawyer Gerry Spence, after the verdict.
"Yes, illegal. That should do him in, since the only defense remaining was that he did not act 'knowingly and willfully' when he made these reimbursements that were in excess of $100,000," Spence said.
During an 18-day trial in which he was the lone witness called by the defense, Fieger maintained that the reimbursements were actually bonuses and that employees' donations to Edwards were made voluntarily.
Fieger testified that the reimbursements were listed in the firm's books and there was no attempt to conceal them. He also said under oath that he paid taxes on the bonuses.
In speaking to reporters after the verdict, jurors made clear that the prosecution's case did not meet the judge's standard of proving that Fieger "knowingly and willingly" violated the law.
"The judge's instructions were 'knowingly and willfully,' but that was not enough," juror Greg Fraser, of Detroit, told The Kalamazoo Gazette.
The indictment of Fieger was the last such case pursued by the Justice Department while Alberto Gonzales was attorney general under President George W. Bush. Before and after the verdict, Fieger, who was the 1998 Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan, insisted that he and his law partner Ven Johnson were being prosecuted for their political beliefs.
"I think this verdict sends a loud message to the Department of Justice," Johnson said, "that we know what's going on, prosecuting personal injury plaintiffs' attorneys because we support Democrats."
Several of D'Souza's fans on the right are charging a conspiracy by the Obama administration's Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder.
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas cited the D'Souza case and noted that the defendant had made a movie criticizing the president.
Cruz asked moderator Bob Schieffer: "Can you imagine the reaction if the Bush administration had prosecuted [Bush's Hollywood enemies] Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn?"
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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