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House Leaders Seek Exclusion Of Wiretapped Calls From Renzi Trial

A bipartisan group of House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), want a federal magistrate to suppress some phone calls recording by the FBI in its investigation of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz..), arguing that the federal agents violated Renzi's constitutional privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause.

The legal motion, filed late Monday by House General Counsel Irv Nathan, is not designed to protect Renzi, but rather prevent the Justice Department from using allegedly improperly obtained evidence in its prosecution of the retiring lawmaker. Renzi has been charged with using a federal land transfer bill to obtain money for a business associate who owed the Arizona Republican a large sum of money, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance fraud.

"The House does not file this memorandum to protect Congressman Renzi from  criminal investigation or prosecution; to suggest that he or any other Member of  Congress is above the law or immune from prosecution...or to suggest that no Member of Congress may ever be subject
to a Title III wiretap,' said the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in its motion.BLAG is made up of Pelosi, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other senior House lawmakers.

"Rather, the Leadership Group contends that the Department’s significant Speech or Debate violations during the investigation of Congressman Renzi  (1) require a declaration that the Title III wiretap in this case violated the Constitution and the suppression of all information gathered through or as a result of that wiretap; (2)  would have required dismissal of the original indictment, without prejudice; and (3)
require the dismissal" of 28 counts against Renzi "if the Court determines that the Department did not
sufficiently cleanse its presentation to that grand jury of all privileged Speech or Debate
material."

The scope of the Speech or Debate Clause, which protects lawmakers and congressional staff from legal action for legislative activities, has been a source of huge controversy over the last several years. The Supreme Court refused to overturn an appeals courts decision finding that the FBI raid on indicted Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office was illegal. Jefferson is challenging his indictment on bribery and corruption charges on the grounds that it violated his privilege under Speech or Debate, although he recently lost a round in that effort in a federal appeals court.
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