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Court Orders in Chaka Fattah Case Could Complicate Life in Congress

The congressman is barred from communicating with two congressional colleagues without an attorney. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Pre-trial orders from the federal judge overseeing Rep. Chaka Fattah's corruption case have made it hard and expensive for the Pennsylvania Democrat to do his job in Congress.  

Fattah is barred from communicating or have contact with fellow Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, of Florida, or Sen. Bob Casey, the senior Democratic senator from his state's congressional delegation, without an attorney present under the Aug. 18 order. Both Capitol Hill colleagues could be called by prosecutors to testify in the case, according to court documents. Fattah also needs a lawyer present to oversee any interaction with his former chief of staff, an ex-staff assistant and a man who previously worked as the congressman's senior policy adviser and legal counsel. All three former aides are on the list of 122 prospective witnesses produced by the government on Aug. 20.  

In a motion filed Aug. 24, Defense attorneys argue the "stay away" order impairs Fattah's ability to prepare his defense against 29 criminal charges related to racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, and carry out his duties as a congressman.  

Under the government's proposal, Fattah could only speak without an attorney present to potential witnesses who are currently on his payroll. But many of the people named have served and continue to serve Fattah in a variety of advisery roles, his lawyers argue.  

Casey, Deutch and former staffers Maisha Leek, Jacqueline Barnett and Nuku Ofori are among the 22 potential witnesses Fattah wants to be able to consult. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, Democratic State Sen. Vincent Hughes, and prominent attorney and Republican fundraiser William Sasso also made the list, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday. Fattah would be required to have an attorney on the phone with him supervising his conversations, adding to his mounting legal costs. His lawyers also state, "the logistics of finding an attorney able to devote hours at a time to supervising the hundreds of daily conversations Mr. Fattah is required to have in his role" will impede his defense preparations and limit his chats with "close political advisors" to business hours.  

Fattah stands accused of carrying out a series of public corruption schemes related to his failed 2007 bid for mayor of Philadelphia, and abusing his power in Congress by misappropriating hundreds of thousands in federal, charitable and political funds. The congressman has maintained his innocence, while stepping aside from prominent roles including a top Appropriations Committee post.  

"Presumably the concern is that Fattah and others will be able to improperly coordinate their stories," his lawyers conclude. "However, given that all of the defendants and potential witnesses have known about the investigation for several years, this risk is overstated and moot at this point, and this concern should not be controlling."  

Related: Ethics Committee to Investigate Chaka Fattah (Updated) Chaka Fattah Case Could Get Awkward Fast for Democrats (Video) See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.