Legalease

Posted February 27, 2007 at 6:55pm

The House has reached an agreement with the Justice Department to turn over at least some of the documents subpoenaed in connection with the probe of ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Under the agreement, announced Tuesday by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California has withdrawn the five subpoenas for thousands of documents from the House Appropriations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees. Instead, the Justice Department has been given “copies of some documents immediately” and “access to other documents over the next several weeks,” Pelosi said in a statement — though it was unclear whether Justice investigators would receive all of the documents they are seeking.[IMGCAP(1)]

In addition, the committees have agreed to allow a former and current committee staffer to testify on March 1 before a grand jury continuing to probe the Cunningham matter. One is Rebecca Kuhn, formerly Cunningham’s executive assistant who most recently worked for ex-Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). Kuhn has left Capitol Hill and now works as an executive assistant for former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) at PhRMA, the national association for the pharmaceutical industry. Elizabeth Phillips, a staffer for the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, also was served with a subpoena.

By striking at least a tentative deal with Justice, the House is avoiding a nasty legal fight over the Speech or Debate Clause that protects legislative acts. The House counsel, which worked on the case, has declined to invoke the constitutional protection in this case at this point. But it’s unclear what will occur in the tug of war over the remaining documents.

Talkin’ Union Blues. U.S. Comptroller General David Walker responded Tuesday to a letter signed by 22 Members of Congress that urged the head of the Government Accountability Office to stay neutral in unionization efforts at the agency.

The Members, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), also urged Walker to work cooperatively if analysts at the agency decide to file an election petition.

Walker sent a hand-delivered response Tuesday to each Member who signed the Feb. 23 letter, writing that he recognizes the right of employees to unionize and has only spoken out to correct “false or misleading information” presented to employees, the media or other interested parties. But he added that “GAO management also has the right to challenge any attempt by the union to organize certain types of employees,” as some workers do not have the right to be represented under current law.

Any challenge by management would be decided by the agency’s Personnel Appeals Board, Walker wrote.

— Rachel Van Dongen and Elizabeth Brotherton