Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza pleaded not guilty on Friday to federal charges that he used straw donors to exceed campaign contributions to a U.S. Senate candidate in 2012. Meanwhile, the charges against the co-producer of "2016: Obama's America" are being seen by conservatives as evidence that the White House is targeting its critics.
"The Feds have chosen to pursue this alleged minor violation in the same way the IRS targeted conservative Tea Party groups for retribution," Gerald R. (Jerry) Molen, who co-produced "2016" with D'Souza, said in a statement released Friday. "In light of the way the IRS has been used to stifle dissent, this arrest should send shivers down the spines of all freedom-loving Americans."
D'Souza's defense lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, suggested in New York federal court that the action described in D'Souza's indictment does not rise to the level of a crime, according to Reuters. The contributions connected to D'Souza were for candidate Wendy Long, who was unsuccessful in her bid for the Senate seat of Democratic Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.
"It's an unusual case," Brafman told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. "I don't think there's much dispute as to what happened, but why it happened and whether it violated federal election law."
Brafman apparently tried to convince the government not to press charges but was ultimately rebuffed, Reuters reported.
D'Souza allegedly arranged for two individuals and their spouses to donate a total of $20,000 in August 2012 to Long's campaign. Later, the campaign contributors were reimbursed by D'Souza, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen. There was a $5,000 limit for campaign donations for political candidate per race and $2,500 for general election campaigns at the time.
In his statement released on Friday, Molen said filming would continue on a sequel to "2016" despite the charges against his co-producer, D'Souza.
"We believe this is an unfortunate misunderstanding arising out of Dinesh D'Souza's desire to help the uphill campaign of a friend," Molen stated. "There was no intent to do anything illegal or corrupt in any way. This will have no impact on the film 'America,' which will be released on the Fourth of July this year as previously announced. Filming is on schedule and D'Souza will continue to lead the enterprise."
The filmmaker concluded his statement by writing, "I look forward to my good friend Dinesh being vindicated as we hold federal authorities accountable to enforce the law equally and without mind to their personal political agenda. You can leave your support on Dinesh's Facebook Page and with a #StandWithDinesh tweet. As one insightful commentator wrote on the article in THR (The Hollywood Reporter), Obama's DOJ is out to settle scores."
Conservative Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report agrees with those making accusations against the current administration. He tweeted, "They are going after the Obama critics with indictments. VA Gov. Now Dinesh D'Souza. Holder unleashing the dogs."
However, liberal pundits say conservatives are merely reaching for "a far-reaching conspiracy on the part of angry liberals" as reason for the campaign fraud indictment.