Representatives Michael Bost, John Shimkus, and their Republican counterparts in Washington, D.C., have voted themselves protection in criminal investigations to which the rest of us are not entitled. Buried in HR 5, under Section 2, having to do with standing rules by which Congress operates, is an addition to clause 6 of Rule VII, as follows: “(b) Records created, generated or received by the congressional office of a Member ... are exclusively the personal property of the individual Member ... and such Member ... has control over such records.”
This seemingly innocuous language triggers the protection of the Fifth Amendment, which has been interpreted to mean that a person doesn’t have to produce a personal document if just producing that document would be incriminating. The privilege doesn’t apply to governmental agencies or their employees, and if we work for a company, documents we generate are not our personal papers, but belong to the company. Congressmen work for us, so any documents they generate while working for us should be our documents, not their personal papers. Thus, if a congressman is accused of wrongdoing (remember Aaron Schock?) we should be entitled to see documents which will prove or disprove the allegation. Well, not anymore. By virtue of HR 5, those documents are now the congressman’s private papers and are not subject to subpoena if of an incriminating nature. No Democrats voted for this resolution. We should ask Bost and Shimkus why they get to have this protection but we do not.
Gail Donnelly Bader, Alton