Fattah questions investigators' conduct

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah believes federal investigators who subpoenaed his office may be acting improperly and perhaps illegally, the Philadelphia Democrat told the Inquirer Wednesday night.

“Most importantly, I think in the conduct there are improprieties, or what I perceive to be improprieties, in the conduct of it that could even stretch to illegalities,” Fattah said in an interview. He later added, “I’m going to seek appropriate review of it.”

The Inquirer first reported on the subpoena late Wednesday. Below are more of Fattah’s comments, the most extensive he has made on this issue since the long-running inquiry began.

Fattah would not discuss most details of the subpoena, but said it sought documents dating back to 2006. He estimated that it could cover tens of thousands of documents, but he questioned the origins of the investigation, its length and the conduct of the investigators, and added that he will not resign.

Asked if he has been notified if he is the target of an investigation, Fattah paused, until his chief-of-staff interjected, “no.”

“No,” Fattah quickly said. “Let’s try that again – no, no, no and no.”

He said many members of the House Appropriations committee have been investigated, and suggested that there were improper reasons for many of those probes.

“The purpose from which these investigations began,” Fattah said, referring to both his inquiry and others, “may not have the appropriate purpose.”

Fattah spoke in an ornate reception hall, Mellon Auditorium, after receiving an award from Research America, a non-profit that supports and promotes medical research. He had just announced plans to work on a U.S.-European partnership on neuroscience, but after shaking hands with health care executives and renowned scientific researchers, he stepped to the side of the hall’s soaring columns for a roughly 10-minute interview.

Fattah wouldn’t say when the investigation involving him began, but noted that public knowledge of the inquiries date back roughly seven years. He cited Inquirer reports as evidence.

“I think the length does a disservice to the process,” Fattah said.

Fattah would not discuss what was being sought – “I don’t want there to be any accusation that I’m publicly discussing what would be normally, what they refer to as a secret grand jury proceeding,” he said – or what parts he intends to fight.

“The House has a set of rules that say if you’re a member or staff person of the House, there’s certain things you can’t do in response to a subpoena, that I’m restricted from doing,” he said. “I’m not going to resign, so I’ve got to follow the House rules.”

The Department of Justice, through the Congressman's lawyers, offered about a month ago to seek documents through a letter, rather than a subpoena, Fattah said, giving him an option that would have allowed him to avoid making a public filing about the inquiry and “suffer through the interview” with the media. Fattah said he refused.

“Our response was no, we want to operate in a completely transparent way. Treat me like you would treat any of the people I represent,” he said. “Give us a subpoena, if I have to notice the House, within the House rules, I have to do so.”

Fattah said any of his actions or responses will be public, but he declined to discuss details of the subpoena, saying “people can misread that.”

Patricia Hartman, chief spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, said Wednesday night that her office would "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of an investigation."

Fattah pointed out that despite the lingering investigation, he won more votes in 2012 than any House candidate in history.

“I’ve been an elected official for 32 years, so over that period of time I think the public has a very good sense of what I’m focused on, what I’m doing,” he said, “even if it doesn’t get a lot of coverage.”

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