Congressman Ordered to Pay in Wiretap Case
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
A federal judge has ordered Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) to pay nearly $1.2 million to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), settling a legal dispute over McDermott's actions in leaking the contents of an intercepted 1996 conference call involving Boehner and other Republican leaders.
Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in a ruling issued Monday evening, ordered McDermott to pay legal fees, interest and fines accrued by Boehner over the last 10 years.
McDermott may pay the penalty with campaign funds and money from a defense fund he created in 2000. It will go to Boehner's campaign committee, which paid his legal bills throughout the case.
Hogan had already levied a $60,000 civil fine against McDermott in 2004 for violating federal wiretapping statutes by receiving the intercepted audiotape of the conference call and releasing its contents to several members of the media. McDermott appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which last year refused to hear the case.
McDermott said he exercised his First Amendment rights to disclose the contents of the call because Boehner was discussing with other Republican leaders how to handle an ethics committee reprimand of former representative Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was speaker at the time. Boehner was speaking on a cellphone in Florida, where his conversation was illegally recorded by a couple who heard it on a radio scanner.
McDermott will be hard-pressed to pay the penalty quickly. At the end of 2007, his campaign had $612,000 in cash, according to the Federal Election Commission. The total penalty is roughly equal to the total he raised in the previous three years.
McDermott's lawyers have also drained his defense fund and campaign of $573,000 through the end of 2007, according to records.