Court: Congressman Not Shielded by Congressional Immunity
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A congressman has no special protection from criminal charges, a federal appeals panel ruled Wednesday in allowing a racketeering and bribery trial for Rep. Joseph McDade.
McDade, a 16-term Republican from northeastern Pennsylvania, had used the Constitution’s ″speech or debate″ clause in asking for dismissal of charges.
Attorneys for the House of Representatives supported McDade’s argument before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, dismissed the arguments.
The clause McDade cited was inserted into the Constitution to block the executive branch from using its powers of investigation and prosecution to interfere with the legislative work of Congress. While extending broad protection to legislative activities, the clause generally has not been interpreted as barring prosecution of a congressman for bribery.
McDade’s attorney, Sal Cognetti, had not reviewed the decision but said he remained ″extremely confident that the congressman will be vindicated.″ He said McDade can request a rehearing before the full 3rd Circuit, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or go to trial.
″We would like an opportunity to read the opinion prior to deciding our next step,″ Cognetti said.
McDade was indicted in May 1992 on two counts of conspiracy, two counts of accepting a gratuity and one count of racketeering.
Prosecutors charged that over a five-year period, McDade extracted more than $100,000 worth of favors from various defense contractors in return for helping them secure more than $50 million worth of contracts.
According to the indictment, the favors included a $7,500 scholarship for one of his children, plane flights and a sports coat.