A federal judge in Philadelphia is making it easier for Rep. Chaka Fattah to communicate with two fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill by granting the 11-term Pennsylvania congressman contact with certain potential prosecution witnesses in the corruption case expected to go to trial in 2016.
The court order modifying Fattah's pretrial release conditions states he may communicate with Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida and Sen. Bob Casey , the senior Democratic senator from his state’s congressional delegation, without an attorney present "with respect to non-case-related matters involving his duties as a Representative." Fattah did not attend the Wednesday court proceedings, and declined to comment to CQ Roll Call on what his lawyers were arguing. "I wasn't there," he said, on his way into the House chamber Thursday, explaining his mind was on his business in Congress.
Instead, Fattah offered to talk about a statement pleading Republicans to "come to the negotiating table" on a budget agreement. Immediately following his July 29 indictment , the senior appropriator resigned his leadership post on the House Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the Justice Department and FBI budgets. But he urged fellow appropriators to "find common ground" with a Sept. 30 deadline looming.
Fattah called the alleged criminal conspiracy charges -- 29 counts related to racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud -- "frivolous litigation ... not in terms of innocent people being harmed, but in terms of the merits of it, it's frivolous," he said.
The House Ethics Committee is also reviewing allegations of wrongdoing by Fattah.
Prosecutors initially opposed Fattah's request that he be allowed to have contact with 22 people on their list of potential witnesses, which includes Deutch, Casey, 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. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell and other prominent players in state politics also made the list.
Fattah challenged the restrictions as "an undue and unnecessary burden" and argued they would impede his defense and impair his ability to do his job. He also pointed to the hefty price of paying an attorney to oversee his communications with the individuals.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer , lawyers in the courtroom expressed concern that witnesses might feel intimidated if Fattah tried to talk to them.
The judge's order states Fattah may communicate with members of his current staff, without the presence of an attorney, as long as they do not talk about the corruption case. He can also communicate with members of his immediate family without limitation.
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