Case on phone call involves Ohio rep
The tape of John Boehner's call was given to reporters by a Democratic lawmaker.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As a senior member of the House ethics committee, Rep. Jim McDermott had an obligation not to disclose the contents of an illegally taped telephone call involving House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, a lawyer for Boehner said Thursday.
Just as a federal judge should not reveal confidential information about a case, McDermott should not have given reporters access to the taped telephone call, regardless of how it was obtained, lawyer Michael Carvin said.
"He had a duty not to disclose, therefore he can't claim First Amendment rights" allowing him to make the tape public, Carvin told a federal appeals court. "Any third-grader would know it's absolutely improper."
Boehner was among several GOP leaders heard on the 1996 call, which involved ethics allegations against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
McDermott, a Washington state Democrat serving on the ethics panel at the time, leaked the tape to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The New York Times, which published stories on the case in January 1997.
Gingrich, heard on the call telling Boehner and others how to react to allegations, was later fined 300,000 and reprimanded by the House.
Appeals court reversal
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against McDermott last March. The 2-1 opinion upheld a lower court ruling that McDermott had violated Boehner's rights.
The full nine-member appeals court later vacated the ruling and heard arguments in the case last fall. On Thursday, it heard a second round of arguments that focused more narrowly on House rules and committee members' obligations.
The ethics panel said in a report released in December that McDermott had failed to meet his obligations as a committee leader by giving reporters access to the taped call.
McDermott's lawyer, Christopher Landau, disputed Carvin's assertion that the committee's report showed McDermott had violated House rules, saying the committee found McDermott violated only the spirit of its rules.
Judge A. Raymond Randolph compared McDermott to an agent from the Internal Revenue Service who discloses confidential information about a taxpayer.
The House panel took no further action against McDermott beyond release of its Dec. 11 report.
Lawyers for 18 news organizations -- including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post -- have filed a brief backing McDermott in the civil case. A ruling against him could chill the press's ability to gather information on important public issues, they said.