Talks Continue Over Cunningham Documents

Posted February 14, 2007 at 6:38pm

The House counsel’s office is still trying to negotiate a deal with the Justice Department for three House committees to turn over hundreds of pages of subpoenaed documents in connection with the probe into ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) illegal activities.

One Democratic aide said this week that “discussions on the matter are still ongoing.”

“The deadlines have been extended for the committees to supply the requested documents, and we hope to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” the aide commented.

But it was unclear on Wednesday when that new deadline would be. The House missed a Jan. 31 deadline to turn over the documents from the House Appropriations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

They were subpoenaed Dec. 22 by San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who announced Tuesday the indictment of defense contractor Brent Wilkes for allegedly offering $700,000 worth of bribes to Cunningham in exchange for help securing federal contracts.

With Lam leaving office today after being ousted by the Bush administration in December, it now appears she will not receive those documents before her departure.

But after the switch in Congressional control, Democrats complained they did not have enough time to sort through the voluminous documents to meet the initial Jan. 11 deadline. The deadline was then moved back to the end of January.

Despite the delay, Democrats cautioned they were looking for an amicable solution on the matter rather than a drawn-out legal fight.

House leaders of both parties historically have been reluctant to cede legal ground in controversial cases, arguing either that separation of powers protects lawmakers’ rights or that the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution immunizes legislative acts, including certain documents.

Then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) joined forces in 2006, for example, to criticize the May 20 FBI raid of embattled Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) Congressional offices.

One possible compromise in the Cunningham matter would allow the U.S. attorney’s office access to the committees’ records without those records actually being transferred to the department’s custody.

A Justice Department spokeswoman could not be reached for comment on this story.

Cunningham pleaded guilty in November 2005 to bribery and tax evasion and currently is serving eight years in a prison camp in Tucson, Ariz. It is unknown whether he is cooperating in the probe.

Cunningham served on the House Appropriations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Additionally, according to the Congressional Record, two staffers have been served with subpoenas regarding the Cunningham matter including Rebecca Kuhn, formerly Cunningham’s executive assistant who most recently worked for former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). She has left Capitol Hill and now works as an executive assistant for former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) at PhRMA.

Elizabeth Phillips, a former staffer for the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, also was served with a subpoena.