Pelosi Sees Limited Shield for Visclosky

Posted June 4, 2009 at 11:27am

If Rep. Peter Visclosky’s (D-Ind.) lawyers were hoping to assert constitutional privileges to withhold documents from a federal grand jury, they won’t be getting any help making their case from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Pelosi on Thursday made clear that the lawmaker has limited room to leverage the Speech or Debate protection in response to subpoenas of his Congressional and campaign offices and some staffers. Visclosky last week revealed his offices had been served as part of the federal probe into the defunct lobbying firm PMA Group.

“Speech and debate is not a place to hide,” Pelosi said, when asked about the potential violation of Congress’s ability to keep some of its records from the executive branch under the Constitution.

Visclosky has said he intends to fully cooperate with the inquiry but also said his lawyers are reviewing the requested records to determine what is protected. Legal experts have told Roll Call that the constitutional privilege could pose a high hurdle for investigators.

The Indiana Democrat has tried to stay ahead of the controversy, most recently by handing off control of the energy and water spending bill to his deputy on that Appropriations subcommittee.

But at least one Republican is calling for further action. Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Thursday sent Pelosi a letter asking her to urge Visclosky to leave the Appropriations panel altogether while the investigation proceeds.

“With public confidence in Congress at an all-time low it is imperative, when faced with situations such as Rep. Visclosky’s, that House leaders act responsibly and without delay to safeguard the integrity of the House,— Issa said in his letter.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.