- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007


As a senior member of the House ethics committee, Rep. Jim McDermott had an obligation not to disclose the contents of an illegally taped telephone call involving House Republican leaders, an attorney for one of the House Republicans said yesterday.

Just as a federal judge should not reveal confidential information about a case, Mr. McDermott should not have given reporters access to the taped telephone call, regardless of how it was obtained, said Michael Carvin.

“He had a duty not to disclose, therefore he can’t claim First Amendment rights” allowing him to make the tape public, the attorney told a federal appeals court. “Any third-grader would know it’s absolutely improper.”

Mr. Carvin represents House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who was among several Republican leaders heard on the 1996 call, which involved ethics charges against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican.

Mr. McDermott, a Washington Democrat serving on the ethics panel at the time, leaked the tape to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, which published stories on the case in January 1997.

Mr. Gingrich, who was heard on the call telling Mr. Boehner and others how to react to the accusations, was later fined $300,000 and reprimanded by the House.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against Mr. McDermott in March. The 2-1 opinion upheld a lower-court ruling that Mr. McDermott had violated Mr. Boehner’s rights.

The full nine-member appeals court later vacated the ruling and heard arguments in the case in the fall. On Thursday, it heard a second round of arguments that focused more narrowly on House rules and committee members’ obligations.

The ethics panel said in a report released in December that Mr. McDermott had failed to meet his obligations as a committee leader by giving reporters access to the taped call.

Mr. McDermott’s attorney, Christopher Landau, disputed Mr. Carvin’s assertion that the committee’s report showed Mr. McDermott had violated House rules, saying the panel found the lawmaker violated only the spirit of its rules.

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