Your government at work

The House ethics committee is set to launch an investigation of Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash) for alleged ethics violations stemming from the 1997 leak of an illegally recorded cellphone conversation between Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House Republicans, including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, at the time himself the subject of an ethics committee inquiry. Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered McDermott to pay restitution to Boehner for willful and knowing misconduct rising to the level of malice, for an amount estimated to be in the neighborhood of $600,000 ($60,000 in damages, $540,000 in legal expenses). The judge (U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan) rejected McDermott's First Amendment defense, according to which the Congressman argued that he supplied the recording to The New York Times in an effort to uncover Gingrich's attempts to mount a counter-offensive against the ethics committee in order to maintain his position as Speaker of the House.

McDermott, while serving as the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, received a tape recording from a Florida couple who intercepted the conversation on their police scanner. The couple later pled guilty to illegally intercepting and recording a telephone conversation; each was fined $500. McDermott admitted in May 2002 to leaking the documents to the Times. According to McDermott's filings in the suit by Boehner, "Congressman McDermott believed that the conversation recorded on the tape, in which the third-highest elected official in the federal government and others were discussing the settlement agreement, the accompanying sanctions and their plans to engage in the type of 'spin campaign' that the settlement was supposed to forbid, was of significant public interest." As such, McDermott has held that his disclosure was protected by the First Amendment. Judge Hogan disagreed.

So, instead of joining the slew of legal investigators looking into the shady financial dealings of Tom DeLay and his cronies, the ethics committee has turned its attention to a well-intentioned lawmaker trying to reveal the even shadier dealings of another high-ranking Republican Congressman. In what universe does this make sense? Oh wait....perhaps there's something more to this case than just a vigilant desire to protect the privacy of law-breaking politicians. You might recall Jim McDermott from his interview with Michael Moore in the film Farenheit 911. McDermott was the only Congressman willing to sit down with Mr. Moore and speak candidly about the fear tactics employed by the Bush administration against the American public. A psychologist by vocation before entering Congress, McDermott didn't pull any punches in his assessment of the Bush II regime's tactics of mass manipulation. Is it any wonder that he has become the target of a Republican-dominated Congress as it visits retribution on its enemies? This is your tax dollar at work. Could you be any prouder?


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