WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate impeachment trial against U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Porteous Jr. continued on Wednesday with House prosecutors presenting more evidence that the Louisiana judge engaged in acts of corruption spanning several decades.
Porteous, 63, nominated to serve as a federal judge in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton, is accused of accepting bribes and engaging in a kickback scheme with a Louisiana law firm.
The House voted unanimously in March to impeach Porteous based on four articles of impeachment, which included allegations that Porteous accepted funds, meals and gifts from lawyers and a bail bondsman, made false statements in bankruptcy filing materials, and lied during his federal judge nomination and confirmation process.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mont., who is leading the 12-member impeachment committee with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, repeatedly emphasized that the purpose of the trial was to establish a complete record for the larger Senate.
“This is not a typical jury,” McCaskill said, asking that parties limit their objections to questions asked and focus on obtaining a complete record of events so individual senators could make a judgment as to whether or not to impeach Porteous.
Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., are acting in the role of prosecutors for the House.
McCaskill continued to rein in prosecutors throughout the day, reminding them that they were not following “the rules of evidence in law school,” but considering what “the Senate at large should have an opportunity to review.”
Former FBI Agent Bobby Hamil, who interviewed Porteous in 1994 after Porteous’ appointment to the bench, said that during the interview, Porteous failed to mention alleged illicit cash he received from the law firm Amato & Creely. The funds were allegedly linked to a kickback scheme in which Porteous was sending curatorships to the firm in exchange for a cut of the fees.
Hamil was also questioned about a background investigation form that asked Porteous whether he had something in his past that would be embarrassing to himself or to the president, to which Porteous had answered, ‘No.’
“Does that make sense?” a prosecutor asked. “Doesn’t everyone have something embarrassing in their past? When he put a response of ‘No,’ you didn’t dig deeper?”
“No, we did not,” Hamil said. He said the FBI only tasked him with asking the questions and sending the results to headquarters.
FBI Agent DeWayne Horner testified that Porteous had nearly $13,000 in gross losses from gambling and $5,000 in winnings, but failed to document the activity in bankruptcy filing documents in 2001.
Earlier in the day, Indiana University Law Professor Charles Geyh testified that Porteous’ alleged unethical behavior as a state judge was unacceptable, even in a small town in which he might see his friends appear in his courtroom.
Porteous’ attorney, George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley, had argued that gift-giving, including gifts of watches, gingerbread houses and other goods, was routine for area judges.
“Judges will have social relationships, but this situation is different,” Geyh said.
Geyh said he did not know who paid for a trip to Vegas, but added that Porteous “would clearly have to know if he went on a trip if he did. Geyh added that if the Vegas trip was paid for by a company, as alleged, it would “impact adversely on his integrity.”
When the questioning turned to allegations that Porteous filed for bankruptcy under a false name, Geyh said there was no excuse. He said Porteous’ decision to file using his initials could perhaps be forgiven if he were a citizen without legal experience taking the advice of a laywer. But if a lawyer came to Porteous and said, “I’ve got it, let’s perjure ourselves,” Porteous, as a federal judge, should have known to “cut square corners,” Geyh said.
The Senate impeachment trial opened Monday and will continue on Thursday and possibly into next week. It is the first impeachment trial since former President Clinton’s in 1999.
If convicted by the committee, Porteous’ case will be turned over to the entire Senate, which can remove him from the bench with a two-thirds vote. And if that happens, Porteous would be the eighth federal judge to be impeached in U.S. history.