Members of Congress may have gotten out of having to testify at the trial of a California defense contractor accused of bribing former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) after a lawyer for Brent Wilkes agreed in a San Diego federal court Tuesday to withdraw subpoenas sent last month to a dozen Members of Congress, according to The Associated Press.
The decision came after Wilkes’ lawyer, Mark Geragos, submitted a motion Monday arguing that Wilkes can’t be expected to defend himself without the House Members’ testimony. In the motion, Geragos argued that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause would not be triggered because Wilkes has “no other source for evidence regarding the activities surrounding the legislative processes that he supposedly corrupted than these legislators.”
House lawyers opposed the subpoenas, arguing that they contained technical flaws and that Wilkes’ attorneys had provided little insight into what information they were seeking from Congress.
Geragos originally had subpoenaed 13 Members of Congress — House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), John Murtha (D-Pa.), Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). The subpoena for Skelton was withdrawn.
Members may not be entirely in the clear, though. Geragos noted that he expects to refile at least five of the subpoenas and also may call on other Members of Congress to testify. A call to the House General Counsel’s Office on Tuesday evening was not immediately returned.
Wilkes faces 25 counts of bribery, money laundering and conspiracy charges for allegedly giving Cunningham hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts and favors, in exchange for Cunningham’s direct efforts to procure Defense Department contracts for his companies. If convicted, Wilkes faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Cunningham is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence.
The subpoena withdrawal came following a week of last-minute pretrial issues that were hashed out Tuesday. Last week, Wilkes put in a motion asking that the jury not hear about charges that he supplied Cunningham with prostitutes.
The case is slated to begin Oct. 9. Wilkes was supposed to be tried alongside New York banker John Michael, who stands accused of laundering money through his mortgage company. But Michael’s trial has been postponed indefinitely following Michael being diagnosed with viral meningitis.