WASHINGTON – The long legal fight between two members of Congress over an illegally taped telephone call ended Monday when the Supreme Court refused to review the case.
The court left in place a federal appeals court ruling that Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., acted improperly in giving reporters access to the tape-recorded telephone call of Republican leaders discussing the House ethics case against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga, in December 1996.
McDermott asked the justices to hear his appeal of the May ruling, which he said infringed on his free speech rights. The court did not comment on its action.
McDermott said in a statement that he was disappointed the high court declined to review the case, but said he was proud of his actions in the case.
"I knew when I asked the Supreme Court to review this case that the odds were against me," he said. "Nonetheless, I thought that the constitutional principles presented — the First Amendment protection of truthful speech and the separation of powers doctrine — warranted the court's attention. I pursued this case based of my belief in the people's right to know, and I continue to believe it was my sworn responsibility to vigorously defend that right."
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a 5-4 decision, said McDermott's offense was especially egregious since he was a senior member of the House ethics committee at the time.
The ruling upheld a previous decision ordering McDermott to pay House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. The figure includes $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.
Boehner was among several GOP leaders heard on the December 1996 call, which involved ethics allegations against Gingrich. Then the House speaker, Gingrich was heard on the call telling Boehner and others how to react to allegations. He was later fined $300,000 and reprimanded by the House.
A spokesman for Boehner declined immediate comment.
McDermott, who was then serving on the ethics panel, leaked the tape to two newspapers, which published stories on the case in January 1997.
The case is McDermott v. Boehner, 07-439.