Fattah tells Congress that documents subpoenaed

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said some information was privileged.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said some information was privileged.
Posted: March 14, 2014

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who has been contending with a long-running federal investigation, told Congress this week that federal prosecutors in Philadelphia had subpoenaed "certain documents" from his congressional offices.

Following House rules that require such disclosure, the Philadelphia Democrat notified Speaker John A. Boehner of the subpoena in a letter dated Monday, saying that he believed some of the information prosecutors demanded was protected by congressional privilege and that he would fight to stop its release.

"I intend to move to quash the subpoena to that extent," Fattah wrote in the letter, published in Tuesday's Congressional Record. He said he would "otherwise comply . . . to the extent that compliance with the subpoena is consistent with the precedents and privileges of the House."

The 10-term congressman's letter did not specify the nature of the documents sought or say when he received the subpoena.

Asked to comment Wednesday night, Fattah said he believed federal investigators were mishandling the matter.

"I think . . . there are improprieties, or what I perceive to be improprieties, in the conduct of it that could even stretch to illegalities," he said, declining to elaborate. He added, "I'm going to seek appropriate review of it."

Asked whether he had been notified he was the target of an investigation, Fattah paused until his chief of staff interjected, "No."

"No," Fattah agreed. "Let's try that again - no, no, no, and no."

He said he was one of several Appropriations Committee members who had been investigated - probes he suggested might not have had an "appropriate purpose."

Fattah declined to elaborate or to discuss what documents were sought from his offices, saying, "I don't want there to be any accusation that I'm publicly discussing what would be normally what they refer to as a secret grand jury proceeding."

In the fall, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia subpoenaed records of city property taxes and utility bills for Fattah's East Falls home. His lawyer, Luther E. Weaver 3d, said at the time that the property-tax subpoenas were part of an investigation that had begun about seven years ago.

Citing The Inquirer's reports in that time frame, Fattah said Wednesday night, "I think the length [of the investigation] does a disservice to the process."

Weaver, a former federal prosecutor, could not be reached for comment on the latest subpoenas.

Patricia Hartman, chief spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, said Wednesday night that her office would "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of an investigation."

Fattah, 57, and his wife, NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, live in a $400,000 house near Philadelphia University. In 2012, they bought a house on 4.8 acres in Pike County in the Poconos for $425,000. Pike County officials said in the fall that they had not received any subpoena for records about that property.

House rules require any member who receives a subpoena for testimony or records tied to official business to promptly notify the speaker, whose staff reviews the requested material.

Fattah, whose district includes much of Philadelphia and a portion of Montgomery County, said in his letter to Boehner (R., Ohio) that after consulting with House lawyers, he had concluded some of the subpoenaed records were "not material and relevant." Other lawmakers have used that argument successfully in investigations to persuade judges to quash subpoenas or portions of them.

Fattah's son, Philadelphia business consultant Chaka Fattah Jr., has also been under investigation by federal authorities for income tax and bank loan issues - a probe that surfaced in February 2012 when FBI agents searched his home and office and confiscated records. What connection, if any, those efforts have to the scrutiny of the congressman is not known.

Federal investigators in recent years have focused on a number of congressional earmarks the elder Fattah sponsored for nonprofit organizations run by his former staffers. Some officials from those groups have said they were interviewed by investigators.

In January, a Justice Department audit found nearly half of $771,000 a local nonprofit had received through Fattah earmarks went to its director, Raymond T. Jones, the one-man staff of Philadelphia Safety Net, who previously had been a staffer for the congressman.

Jones, who had also worked with him in the 1980s when Fattah was a state legislator, has said the nonprofit did nothing improper with the federal money.

Fattah sounded confident Wednesday night about his future in Washington. A constant champion of funding for scientific and medical research, he was accepting the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy from a group called Research!America. He told an audience of researchers and health-care executives, "I'll be here working for that over the next 10 years."


mfazlollah@phillynews.com

215-854-5831

@mfazlollah

Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg contributed to this article.

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