House Members Resist Testifying in Contractor Trial

By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The defense contractor charged with bribing convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has subpoenaed 13 House members, including former speaker J. Dennis Hastert, to testify in his federal trial.

But the 13 lawmakers are refusing the subpoena, and the House general counsel sent lawyers for the contractor, Brent R. Wilkes, a letter saying that it was overly broad and "did not elaborate as to what testimony you seek from each member."

Wilkes has been indicted on more than 30 counts, including fraud and money laundering, as one of several alleged conspirators who paid more than $2.4 million in bribes to the California Republican. Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty to steering millions of dollars in government business to Wilkes and other defense contractors.

It is unclear what Wilkes's defense team wants from Hastert (R-Ill.) and the other lawmakers. His attorney, Mark J. Geragos, did not respond to repeated requests for comment yesterday.

Most of the 13 members have served on the three committees from which Cunningham steered funding to Wilkes: Appropriations, Armed Services and intelligence. In their investigation, federal prosecutors had sought a massive swath of documents covering almost eight years from those three panels, which resulted in a protracted negotiation and the release of some materials.

Several of the subpoenaed members were recipients of large donations from Wilkes and his associates. They include three California Republicans: John T. Doolittle, who took in more than $80,000 in contributions linked to the contractor; Jerry Lewis, who received at least $60,000 and chaired the Appropriations defense subcommittee while it steered $37 million, at Doolittle's request, to a Wilkes company; and Duncan Hunter, the former Armed Services chairman who received at least $40,000 linked to Wilkes and is now running for president.

As required by House rules, the subpoenas were read into the Congressional Record late Monday evening. John D. Filamor, assistant House counsel, wrote Geragos on Sept. 6 to object to the subpoenas, citing House rules that forbid members from testifying in judicial proceedings unless their testimony is "material and relevant."

Filamor also cited the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution as a likely impediment to the testimony and to "many, if not all, of the documents" Geragos is seeking from a handful of lawmakers. That clause protects members from being tried criminally for legislative acts.

The next likely move by the House counsel is to seek to quash the subpoenas in federal court in San Diego, where Wilkes is slated to go on trial next month.

The other lawmakers subpoenaed: Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the minority whip; Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee; Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee; Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose district adjoined Cunningham's; Joe Knoellenberg (R-Mich.), a senior member of the full Appropriations Committee; John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee; Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), chairman of Intelligence; Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of Armed Services; and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.).

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