Doolittle aides represented by House attorneys before grand jury |

Doolittle aides represented by House attorneys before grand jury

WASHINGTON (AP) ” Two aides to GOP Rep. John Doolittle who appeared before a federal grand jury last week were accompanied by House attorneys rather than private lawyers, The Associated Press has learned.

A third aide did not use House counsel. The grand jury is investigating ties between Doolittle (R-Rocklin), his wife Julie, and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The participation by the House General Counsel’s office comes in the wake of a federal court ruling last month that said federal investigators violated the Constitution by reviewing legislative documents as part of a different congressional corruption case.

It is common for the House Counsel’s office to represent congressional aides in cases where their official duties are involved, according to current and former House officials.

However questions of what congressional business is off-limits to the Justice Department are in the spotlight in the wake of uproar over an FBI raid on Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office last year.

Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the FBI crossed the line when it viewed every record in the office without allowing Jefferson to argue that some involved legislative business.

A constitutional provision known as the speech or debate clause protects elected officials from being questioned by the president, a prosecutor or a plaintiff in a lawsuit about their legislative work.

“After Jefferson there’s a heightened awareness of speech and debate issues,” said James Hamilton, a partner at Bingham McCutchen who filed an amicus brief in the Jefferson case on behalf of several former House leaders. “I’m not surprised that House counsel is taking steps to protect Congress’ privileges.”

Doolittle’s chief of staff, Ron Rogers, was accompanied by David Plotinsky, a House General Counsel attorney, when he appeared last Friday before the grand jury at U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Two days earlier, Doolittle’s deputy chief of staff, Dan Blankenburg, also had House representation at his grand jury appearance, but Doolittle’s scheduler, Alisha Perkins, did not.

The House Counsel generally only represents aides after the Justice Department has disclosed that they are only witnesses in a case and not subject to potential criminal scrutiny. Rogers and Blankenburg both are relatively recent arrivals to Doolittle’s staff while Perkins has worked there for more than five years, including years when Doolittle was lobbied by Abramoff associates.

Rogers and Blankenburg both said after their appearances that they were questioned about routine office procedures and operations.

“This could be the prelude to the investigators using heavy-duty tools to obtain a lot of records or information while still trying to not trip the alarms that the recent court decision in the Jefferson matter warned about,” said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law who served as deputy House Counsel from 1984-1995.

Spokesmen for Doolittle and the Justice Department declined comment, as did officials at the House General Counsel’s office.

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