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Prosecutors Dispute Renzi’s Defense

Federal prosecutors have filed a motion accusing indicted Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) of distorting the constitutional Speech or Debate Clause to avoid standing trial, and asking the court not to grant the lawmaker what amounts to “unprecedented relief” by dismissing charges or suppressing evidence brought against him.

“Renzi distorts the intent and plain meaning of the Clause, arguing in essence that as a Member of Congress he is the fortunate denizen of ‘a sanctuary of crime,’” prosecutors wrote Friday in response to motions the Congressman filed in October.

Renzi has been charged with using his legislative position to push a land deal to benefit a former business partner who owed him money and embezzling money from his family’s insurance firm to finance his first campaign.

The government’s interpretation of the Speech or Debate Clause — essentially that it applies only to typical legislative business — is far narrower than Renzi’s. The Congressman claimed that much of the evidence against him was related to his legislative office and therefore violated the Constitution.

In multiple responses to his motions Friday, the government rejected the claim, saying evidence obtained through conversations with Renzi’s former legislative aides and individuals involved in the land deal could not be considered privileged legislative material. Grand jurors considering the indictment of the Congressman were also educated on the Speech or Debate Clause, and they were instructed to not consider anything specifically related to Renzi’s legislative activity, according to the government’s response.

Although Renzi had argued that evidence obtained from wiretaps of his cell phone should be suppressed, again claiming a Speech or Debate privilege, the government reiterated that the clause protects “Speech or Debate in either House,” but does not exempt Members of Congress from “liability or process in criminal cases.”

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