- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Indicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah suggested Monday that his racketeering case was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and called on a pair of influential House committees to review it for unconstitutional or unlawful behavior.

The Pennsylvania Democrat, a member of the powerful appropriations committee, told the leaders of the House judiciary and oversight committees in a letter that his case appeared similar to illegal investigations that he said have targeted lawmakers for decades over their legislative actions.

The Justice Department “may have potentially blurred the lines of the separation of powers” and “engaged in tactics intended to influence the political process,” Fattah wrote in a letter to committee leaders.

Echoing indicted Sen. Bob Menendez’s defense in his bribery case, Fattah accused the Justice Department of violating the speech or debate clause of the Constitution, which gives members of Congress immunity for legislative actions.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

Fattah is scheduled for an initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday.

He alleges investigators threatened “public embarrassment and political peril” if he didn’t comply with their demands during a probe that led to a July 29 indictment on charges including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and conspiracy to commit wire, honest services and mail fraud.

The 11-term congressman from Philadelphia is accused of paying off an illegal $1 million campaign loan with federal grants and charitable donations, funneling campaign funds toward his son’s student loans and disguising a lobbyist’s bribe as payment for a Porsche his TV anchor wife never sold.

Fattah also accused investigators and prosecutors of violating grand jury secrecy laws and the rights of House staffers by allegedly talking to them directly instead of going through their lawyers.

Fattah wants the judiciary and oversight committees to ensure the Justice Department preserves all documents from his case so they can investigate possible misconduct once his trial is concluded.

Lawyers for Menendez, D-N.J., accused investigators last month of focusing on recanted claims that Menendez was cavorting with escorts and intimidating and threatening his staff and family with their questions.

Fattah, in his letter, cited four other cases involving members of the Congressional appropriations committees.

Among them: a judge’s 2009 decision to overturn the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption conviction after evidence surfaced that prosecutors withheld important evidence.

Peter Zeidenberg, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, said lawyers representing charged lawmakers frequently invoke the speech or debate clause - sometimes to surprising results.

In 2006, an appeals court blocked federal prosecutors from seeing legislative documents the FBI seized from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., because that element of the raid violated the speech or debate clause.

“I don’t think anyone saw that coming,” Zeidenberg said.

Jefferson - known for hiding $90,000 cash in a freezer - invoked the clause again when appealing his indictment. He failed, was eventually convicted and is serving 13 years in federal prison.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide