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GOP Lawyer to Defend Democratic Aide in ID Theft

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) A prominent Republican attorney said Thursday he is representing a Democratic operative charged with stealing the identity of Iowa's Republican secretary of state as part of a plot to link him to corruption in office.

Attorney Matthew Whitaker, who served as the top Des Moines-based federal prosecutor during much of George W. Bush's presidency, confirmed that Zachary Edwards is his client and he'd entered an appearance on his behalf. But Whitaker said he wasn't authorized to make comments about the case, including whether Edwards would fight the aggravated misdemeanor charge of identity theft that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Edwards, 29, turned himself in last week to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents at the Polk County Jail, where he was booked and released after posting $2,000 bail. He is due in court for a hearing next week.

A criminal complaint says that Edwards fraudulently used or attempted to use the identity of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and/or that of his younger brother, Republican political activist Thomas Schultz, on June 24, "with the intent to obtain a benefit."

The identity theft was uncovered by the Secretary of State's office and was part of a scheme to falsely implicate Schultz in "perceived illegal or unethical behavior while in office," the Iowa Department of Public Safety said in a news release, which didn't elaborate. The complaint says it was based on email evidence and "admissions/statements."

Hours after his arrest, Edwards was fired from his job with Link Strategies, a small Des Moines-based consulting firm that has close ties to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and other Democrats. The arrest came just days after firm partner Brad Anderson took a leave of absence to work as campaign manager for President Barack Obama's re-election in Iowa.

Edwards joined the Obama campaign in early 2007 as an organizer in Nevada and eventually directed "New Media" operations in several primary states, according to his biography, which has been removed from the firm's website. Edwards worked as the campaign's director of new media in Iowa during the general election and afterward joined Link Strategies, where he provided clients "innovative web-based research tools, video analysis and production, and web-based communication tools."

Firm founder Jeff Link said he was "greatly disturbed" by the charge against Edwards. But he said he gathered further information that made clear the allegations were "related to a personal action taken by Zach and unrelated to work his with Link Strategies." Link said the firm has had no contact with investigators.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, whose office is prosecuting the case, declined Thursday to confirm Link's statement, saying he could not release any additional details in a pending case. He said the case remained under investigation but did not anticipate additional arrests "at this point."

Sarcone, a Democrat, laughed off the suggestion by some Republican bloggers and news outlets that the case may be part of a Democratic dirty trick operation that could reach into the White House.

"They ought to get a job as fiction writers," he said. "Anybody can speculate or whatever. But we base our cases not on speculation, but on what the evidence is."

"This kid is entitled to a fair trial if he wants to go to trial. I'm not going to engage in some media conversation about his case."

Schultz, whose office runs elections in Iowa and maintains business filings, declined comment Thursday through a spokeswoman. Schultz, seen as a rising GOP politician who is popular with the tea party, delivered an endorsement to Rick Santorum that was credited with giving him a boost before he won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

Democrats have targeted Schultz, an advocate for requiring changing Iowa law to require voters to show identification, since his election.

In June, the Iowa Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint alleging he used state resources to campaign against former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman after Schultz sent a press release blasting Huntsman for skipping the Iowa caucuses. State regulators dismissed the complaint.