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Congressmen Don't Have to Return Tobacco Documents, Court Rules

August 16, 1995| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two congressmen do not have to turn over Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. documents they received from a whistle-blower, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The Constitution protects Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) from having to provide the documents to the cigarette maker, said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Brown & Williamson sought the papers for use in its lawsuit against a former employee of a law firm that represented the company.

The internal documents indicate that top Brown & Williamson executives knew smoking was addictive and dangerous 30 years ago but hid their evidence and muzzled attempts to develop a safer cigarette.

U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene had thrown out the subpoena in June, 1994, saying the cigarette maker was attempting "to intimidate, and in a sense to punish" Waxman, Wyden and the whistle-blower.

The three-judge appeals panel upheld Greene's ruling but pointedly distanced itself from Greene's comment. Judge Laurence H. Silberman wrote for the three that the court did not intend to take sides on the smoking issue.

Silberman said Waxman and Wyden are protected by a constitutional clause that shields members of Congress from being questioned about any "speech or debate" in the House or Senate.

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