The legal staff for the U.S. House of Representatives has challenged the constitutionality of the Justice Department’s prosecution of retiring Rep. Rick Renzi, who is accused of enriching himself through a federal land deal and an insurance scheme.
Effectively aligning with the Arizona Republican congressman’s defense, the House counsel says in a friend-of-the-court brief that federal prosecutors and the FBI repeatedly violated the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which grants members of Congress protections for their legislative acts.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House asserted that its brief is intended “to articulate and protect the House’s interests — and not to defend defendant Congressman Richard Renzi.”
Renzi, who was first indicted by a federal grand jury in February, is accused of engineering a swap of federally owned mining land to benefit himself and a former business partner. He is also charged with collaborating with the former president of his insurance company by misappropriating insurance premiums of his company’s clients for his and others’ enrichment.
The speech and debate provision gives members of Congress protection from having to disclose information about their legislative work and bars the Justice Department from indicting or prosecuting for those activities.
The House counsel, and Renzi’s attorneys, contend federal prosecutors and the FBI repeatedly sidestepped the provision in investigating Renzi — through court-ordered wiretaps of Renzi’s cell phone, in interviews with three former aides and in consensually recorded phone calls.
Prosecutors maintain that Renzi’s defense “distorts the intent and plain meaning” of the speech or debate clause. They also have said that they were not relying on Renzi’s legislative acts to prove their case.
Federal Magistrate Bernardo Velasco is scheduled to begin hearing arguments related to those and other issues, although the brief filed by House lawyers won’t officially be taken up.
Renzi did not seek re-election to a fourth term. His trial has been scheduled for late March.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.