California Democrat indicted for financial crimes

Terrance “TJ” Cox (photo left, bio here), a Central California ag-sector businessman who served a single term in Congress (2019-2021), has been indicted for wire fraud, money laundering, financial institution fraud, campaign funds fraud, CNN reported on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 (read story here).

A grand jury indictment accuses Cox of creating “off-the-books” bank accounts, lying to receive million-dollar loans, falsely designating a property as his primary residence, and arranging a campaign donation kickback scheme, CNN said.

Cox, who has a chemical engineering background, started two nut-processing companies. The charges paint a picture of a pervasive pattern of dishonesty, not a single episode of fraud, and if convicted Cox, 59, potentially faces years in prison.

The campaign kickback scheme involved “a plan to fund and reimburse donations to his 2018 congressional campaign from friends and family members,” CNN said. Republicans don’t take campaign finance laws seriously, and routinely skirt them; Trump pardoned ex-Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who literally stole campaign funds to fund, among other things, “relationships with women” (details here).

In August 2022, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants to be president, suspended a Democratic prosecutor for saying he wouldn’t enforce abortion laws. DeSantis said, “We are not going to allow the pathogen that’s been around the country of ignoring the law, we are not going to allow that to get a foothold here in the state of Florida. We are going to make sure our laws are enforced ….”

Like all Republicans, his outrage is selective — and hypocritical. During the pandemic, DeSantis defied federal health mandates, which led to Florida having a Covid-19 death rate twice as high as Washington’s, where mandates were enforced. DeSantis also has ordered Florida officials to ignore federal immigration and education laws and regulations (see, e.g., stories here and here). And Republicans are threatening violence over the FBI search of Trump’s Florida resort and home as part of a criminal investigation into unlawful taking of classified government documents.

The question of enforcing laws is nuanced and complex. There are millions of laws on federal, state, and municipal books; and nobody can possibly familiarize or comply with them all. Some laws are even contradictory; complying with one can put you in violation of another. Police, prosecutors, and government regulatory agencies need some leeway in deciding whether and when to enforce statutes, ordinances, and regulations.

But police and prosecutorial discretion can be abused; for example, when police single out minority motorists for more frequent traffic stops, or cite them for petty infractions like dirty license plates. It also can be abused when partisan prosecutors shield friends from legal accountability for serious crimes, as initially happened in the case of the Georgia vigilante murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.

But most people who aren’t themselves rabid partisans will recognize abuse of discretion when they see it. Duncan Hunter obviously should’ve been prosecuted. TJ Cox obviously should be prosecuted.

The case of DeSantis removing the Florida prosecutor is more shaded. It’s heavily tinted with partisan politics, and DeSantis exercised his gubernatorial power to fire a local elected official — in effect, overriding the local voters — simply for saying he wouldn’t enforce abortion laws. That, arguably, was premature and infringed on the office holder’s free speech. But for a prosecutor to say he won’t enforce laws he disagrees with may be a bridge too far, that stretches prosecutorial discretion too thin, because it tends to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of law enforcement in general. The “sanctuary city” movement, which Republicans vehemently oppose, raises similar issues.

But this all takes place in a context of Republicans issuing threats against prosecuting Trump, no matter what crimes he has committed; and that, of course, completely destroys their credibility on issues of selective law enforcement and abuse of prosecutorial discretion. The consistent thread running through Republican rhetoric and behavior these days is partisanship: What’s good for the goose, is not good for the gander.

Even small children recognize this as cockeyed and unfair. A toddler will be quick to push back against unequal punishment compared to his siblings. So why should Republicans expect to get away with what no parent can? But more to the point, have we reached a stage in U.S. politics where a major political party and its followers are behaving so much like children that they need stern parenting from the other side?

TJ Cox isn’t being accused of petty infractions, but of serious crimes, and he should be prosecuted. Trump shouldn’t be indicted or prosecuted for technical violations of document handling regulations, but he shouldn’t get a pass for serious election crimes, fraud and corruption crimes, or intentional violations of classified materials laws that endangered our national security.

That’s how things used to work before Republicans perverted our legal system to their hyperpartisan ends, and that’s how things ought to work again.

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