Senate to consider Renzi land-swap deal

The Senate is set to consider a federal land swap at the center of a corruption case against former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.).  

The Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on a measure that would grant the federal government transfer of about 3,000 acres in Arizona to the Resolution Copper Co. In exchange, the developer would give 5,500 acres of conservation land to the federal government.

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The federal land in question contains North America’s largest source of copper ore, but also covers sacred Native American landmarks. Environmentalists and Native Americans oppose the legislation, which is backed by Arizona’s GOP Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), who won Renzi’s seat last year, introduced a version of the bill in the House last month.

The legislation has been stalled ever since a federal investigation into Renzi’s alleged side deal on the land swap. He is accused of telling executives for Resolution Copper Mining that he would not support the land deal legislation unless they bought his former business partner’s property as part of the deal, according to the indictment.

Renzi’s trial is set for September. An Arizona magistrate judge on Wednesday rejected his attempt to have the corruption case dismissed because prosecutors violated separation-of-powers protections.

Renzi’s legal team argued that prosecutors exposed legislative material to the grand jury, a violation of the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution, which protects legislative activity from executive branch intrusion.

The House general counsel and a bipartisan group of leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), filed an amicus brief in support of Renzi’s Speech or Debate argument.

Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco recommended that the district judge deny Renzi’s attempt to dismiss the indictment because prosecutors were not relying on any legislative material exposed during grand jury proceedings as the basis of their charges.

“…Renzi has failed to demonstrate to this court how any of the alleged legislative act evidence, if excised, would be fatal to the superseding indictment,” Velasco wrote.

The magistrate judge has yet to rule on another Renzi motion to dismiss the case because prosecutors violated his attorney-client privilege by monitoring phone calls between Renzi and his lawyers.

Renzi’s lawyers argue that prosecutors wrongfully recorded more than 50 calls protected by attorney-client privilege and then used them in the investigation.

Before recorded conversations are handed over to prosecutors, it is routine for a “taint team” of Justice Department attorneys to review the wiretapped discussions.

Renzi’s attorneys argue that in at least four circumstances, the prosecutors ignored the taint team’s conclusions that the calls were privileged.

Information gleaned from these and other privileged phone calls, they contend, helped investigating agents and prosecutors to identify new areas of inquiry, to obtain a warrant authorizing the search of Renzi’s family insurance business and to garner information to make the charges in the indictment.

Government prosecutors counter that they did not use any of the privileged phone calls to make their case.

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