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Appeals Court rules against McDermott in taped call dispute
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal appeals court ruled today that Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., violated federal law by turning over an illegally taped telephone call to reporters nearly a decade ago.
In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that McDermott violated the rights of House Majority Leader John Boehner, who was heard on the 1996 call involving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The court ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. The figure includes $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.
McDermott leaked a tape of a 1996 cell phone call involving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to The New York Times and other news organizations.
The call included discussion by Gingrich, R-Ga., and other House GOP leaders about a House ethics committee investigation of Gingrich. Boehner, R-Ohio, was a Gingrich lieutenant at the time and is now House majority leader.
A lawyer for McDermott had argued that his actions were allowed under the First Amendment, and said a ruling against him would have "a huge chilling effect" on reporters and newsmakers alike.
Lawyers for 18 news organizations — including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post — filed a brief backing McDermott.
But Boehner's lawyers said McDermott's actions were clearly illegal.
By leaking the tape McDermott "chilled the free speech of others," namely Boehner and Gingrich, lawyer Michael Carvin said following a court hearing in November.
A spokesman for McDermott said today the congressman had just received the ruling and was studying it. A spokesman for Boehner could not be reached immediately.
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