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House waves off subpoenas from SEC in insider-trading probe

| Friday, July 4, 2014, 8:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The House Ways and Means Committee and a top staffer said the panel and its employees are “absolutely immune” from having to comply with subpoenas from a federal regulator in an insider-trading probe.

The committee on Friday responded to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe's order to explain why it had not complied with the Securities and Exchange Commission's requests for documents, phone records and testimony of aide Brian Sutter for more than a year. Gardephe gave the House until Friday to answer.

Kerry W. Kircher, the top lawyer for the House, said the SEC's request should be dismissed because the information it seeks concerns legislative activities protected by the Constitution, which cannot be reviewed by federal judges. If Gardephe won't dismiss the SEC's case, it should be transferred to federal court in Washington, Kircher said.

“What the SEC has done is embark on a remarkable fishing expedition for congressional records — core legislative records,” Kircher said in a court filing. “The SEC invites the federal judiciary to enforce those administrative subpoenas as against the Legislative Branch of the federal government. This court should decline that invitation.”

The so-called speech and debate clause in the Constitution protects members of Congress and staff from any outside inquiry into legislative business.

The SEC sought the subpoenas in an investigation testing the limits of federal insider-trading laws on whether the committee or staff members illegally passed on nonpublic information about a change in U.S. health care policy. In seeking compliance with the subpoena demand, the SEC cited a 2012 law that requires public officials to keep confidential any nonpublic information about government matters that could move stock prices.

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