Ted Cruz was once John Boehner’s lawyer. Here’s their story.

It's doubtful that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will be taking political advice from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the near future. But legal advice? Well, it's happened before.

Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Tex.) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Tex.) (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

"Ted Cruz used to be my attorney a long time ago. A good guy. I don't always agree with him, but he's a good guy," Boehner told Jay Leno Thursday on NBC's "The Tonight Show."

Say what? Yes, the tea party firebrand and the establishment GOP leader who don't see eye to eye were once on the same team back in the late 1990s.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The year was 1998. Shania Twain and Savage Garden were all the rage. Boehner was House Republican Conference chairman. He had decided to sue Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) for allegedly violating wiretapping laws.

At issue was a recorded phone conversation in 1996 involving Boehner and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, among others. A Florida couple intercepted the call on a police scanner. The couple gave a recording of the call to McDermott, then the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee. (Gingrich was facing ethics sanctions.) McDermott shared it with the New York Times. And, well, Boehner wasn't happy.

Here's what The Washington Post reported in 2006:

John and Alice Martin, Democratic activists from Florida, overheard the discussion on a police scanner and recorded it. The Martins gave the tape to McDermott; they later pleaded guilty to illegally intercepting the call and were each fined $500.

Boehner targeted his ire at McDermott, then the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, who he said leaked the contents of the tape to the New York Times and other news organizations in a blatant invasion of privacy.

Enter Cruz, then a rising legal star who had clerked for a Supreme Court justice. He was Boehner's lawyer in the case. When Boehner used the case to help his campaign raise money, Cruz defended him publicly, emerging in the media years before he would return as a conservative hero.

"The fund-raising letter is much ado about nothing," Cruz told the Seattle Times. "Congressman McDermott has consistently attempted to delay the litigation and drive up the expense. It is reasonably expected that Congressman Boehner will use the means at his disposal to raise the funds to pursue this lawsuit."

Cruz didn't stay with Boehner's case long, reported David Mark of Politix. The legal battle lingered for years. If you're wondering how it turned out, a federal judge sided with Boehner in 2004. In 2008, the judge awarded Boehner more than  $1 million in legal fees.

But don't count on the old gang getting back together for a reunion. During the recent government shutdown, Cruz was spurring rank-and-file conservatives to take a hard-line stand against Obamacare. It made Boehner's job as speaker more difficult.

Oh well. They'll always have the '90s.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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