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13 congressmen to fight bribery case subpoenas

September 19, 2007|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Thirteen House members plan to fight subpoenas issued to them in the federal trial of a defense contractor accused of bribing jailed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe).

An aide to Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), one of the subpoena recipients, said the House counsel believes that the lawmakers are unlikely to be required to testify and that the subpoenas are "merely a shotgun, grandstanding legal tactic."

The subpoenas for the trial that is to start soon in San Diego were issued to a bipartisan group of lawmakers by Mark J. Geragos, an attorney for Poway contractor Brent R. Wilkes. Geragos' past high-profile clients have included singer Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson, who is on death row at San Quentin for the murders of his wife and unborn son.

Stanley Brand, a former House counsel, predicted that House members would not be forced to testify, citing the Constitution's "speech-and-debate" clause that protects lawmakers while they are performing legislative duties. He also said he suspected the subpoenas indicate that Wilkes' defense team will attempt to show that his activities were "just the way business was conducted" in Washington.

Wilkes pleaded not guilty to charges that he provided Cunningham with prostitutes, jet travel, limousine service, cash, meals and other items in return for the congressmen's help in steering defense contracts his way. His trial begins Oct. 2.

Among those who received subpoenas were former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and California Republicans John T. Doolittle of Roseville, Jerry Lewis of Redlands, Duncan Hunter of El Cajon and Darrell Issa of Vista.

The House counsel's office has sent Geragos a letter asking "what testimony you intend to seek from each member and why you think such testimony would be relevant to your case."

Ultimately, the counsel is expected to seek to quash the subpoenas.

Geragos could not be reached for comment.

Issa referred to the subpoena directed at him as a "mystery."

"I have no knowledge of information pertaining to the charges pending against Mr. Wilkes that would aid either the defense or the prosecution in this case," he said.

Cunningham is serving an 8-year prison term after pleading guilty in 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.--

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