Congressman Liable for Disclosing Taped Call

D.C. Circuit ruling turns on an ethics committee confidentiality rule; congressman could be out more than $500,000.

A congressman had no First Amendment right to disclose a tape-recorded telephone call to the media because he voluntarily accepted a duty of confidentiality, an en banc federal appeals court has ruled.

The decision yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a $60,000 award against U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who gave the media the tape, the New York Times reports. McDermott was also ordered to pay the appellee’s attorney fees, which could exceed $500,000, according to the Times.

McDermott accepted the duty as a member of the House ethics committee, the opinion (PDF) said.

A Florida couple had given McDermott the tape after recording the call in which then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich discussed an ethics finding against him.

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