Tuesday, May 16, 2006

House Resists Call for Papers in Bribery Case

The New York Times
House Resists Call for Papers in Bribery Case

WASHINGTON, May 15 — Justice Department investigators and lawyers for the House of Representatives are wrangling over a request by the department for Congressional committee documents related to its expanding inquiry into the bribery scheme that involved former Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican Congressional official said Monday.

The United States attorney's office in San Diego has asked for copies of "tens of thousands" of documents from the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees, the official said, as part of its inquiry into whether Mr. Cunningham illegally influenced the process the committees use to designate money for military projects.

But lawyers for the Republican-controlled House rebuffed the request as unreasonably broad, the official said, and asked the United States attorney's office for a shorter list.

The request for committee documents was reported Monday in Roll Call, a Washington newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, and confirmed by the Republican Congressional official, who had been briefed on the discussions with the United States attorney's office. The official would not comment for the record about the request for documents, and was granted anonymity to encourage candid discussion.

Current and former staff members from the two committees have been asked to cooperate with investigators, said Josh Holly, a spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee. He added that no one at the Armed Services Committee had been asked to cooperate.

Mr. Cunningham, a California Republican who was an influential member of the House Intelligence Committee, pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced to prison for accepting at least $2.4 million in cash and gifts in return for helping friends and supporters win military contracts. Since that time, the United States attorney's office has broadened its investigation into several current members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, including its chairman, Representative Jerry Lewis, according to government officials who had been briefed on the investigation.

The documents were requested in a March 7 letter to House officials. In April, lawyers from the House asked federal investigators to trim the request, the official said.

"They wanted tens of thousands of documents without any clear notion of where it was going or what it was for," the official said. "It was a long list of stuff, it was at least 10,000 documents" that would take more than 100 hours to compile.