Partner Bill Pittard Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Investigation and Prosecution of Congressional Staffers
KaiserDillon partner Bill Pittard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. At the hearing, Pittard stressed the need for Legislative Branch staff facing investigation to have access to counsel. Recognizing that Legislative Branch staffers are often public servants making salaries that could be stretched significantly by a protracted legal process, Pittard told the Subcommittee that, nonetheless, “these are sophisticated cases, and Legislative Branch staffers need sophisticated counsel.”
Pittard explained that the problem is made particularly acute because Congressional staffers are generally forbidden by ethics rules from accepting free legal help–if they could find counsel willing to do a complex case pro bono. Under Congressional Ethics rules, pro bono legal help is considered a “gift” so that someone in the Legislative Branch generally can’t accept it.
The Subcommittee is considering the risk to Legislative Branch officials, and particularly those involved in oversight of the Executive Branch, of being prosecuted or investigated in retaliation for just doing their jobs. The Subcommittee also is considering how to solve this problem. This discussion flows from controversy regarding actions taken by the CIA during the course of a Senate investigation of that agency’s methods of rendition and interrogation.
Pittard suggested a number of reforms, including setting up a mechanism so that the government could pay the legal fees of legislative staffers under investigation, or at least changing the ethics rules so that staffers could accept pro bono legal counsel.
Pittard commented: “Legislative Branch officials caught up in inter-branch disputes deserve and require competent counsel to protect their interests. Access to that counsel is essential to protecting the official’s interest as he or she navigates the constitutional and political tug of war that often comes with any investigation or prosecution of a Legislative Branch official.”