SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A Republican lawmaker claims a federal judge's restraining order cannot stop an anti-abortion group from turning over secretly recorded videos demanded by a congressional subpoena.
Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the Center for Medical Progress last week, saying Congress' power to investigate overrides any court's restraining order.
"The U.S. House of Representatives maintains a 'power of inquiry... as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution," Chaffetz wrote in his Sept. 30 letter to the center, citing the 1975 Supreme Court decision Eastman v. U.S. Servicemen's Fund.
Chaffetz, who announced on Sunday he is running to for the position of House speaker when Rep. John Boehner resigns at month's end, said the Eastman decision cemented Congress' power to investigate as inherent to its lawmaking authority.
"Congressional subpoenas that seek information pertinent to a valid legislative purpose within the jurisdiction of the particular committee are constitutionally protected activities of the legislative branch," Chaffetz wrote.
The Center for Medical Progress obtained the materials that the the House committee seeks when it posed as a biomedical company to gain access to the National Abortion Federation's meetings and secretly record discussions allegedly involving the sale of fetal tissue.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a temporary restraining order to block the center from releasing its videos on July 31, hours after the abortion federaion sued the group of self-described "citizen journalists" for fraud, conspiracy, privacy invasion and breaching signed confidentiality agreements.
Peter Breen, an attorney for the center with the Thomas Moore Society of Chicago, said there is no legal justification to refuse the House subpoena. The center plans to turn over the video footage and other materials to Congress by Wednesday, Oct. 7, Breen added.
In its Oct. 5 letter to the court, the National Abortion Federaion said the center's executive director David Daleiden "can cite no authority that even remotely supports the notion that he can violate the federal court TRO because a House Subcommittee issued a subpoena to CMP and then wrote him a letter."
The National Abortion Federation said the House letter set no deadlines for compliance nor did it threaten any contempt proceedings should the Center for Medical Progress fail to comply.
According to the House rules, enforcement of a House subcommittee subpoena requires authorization of the full House, which has not happened in this case, the federation argued.
The National Abortion Federal also said Daleiden's belief that a House subcommittee can "interfere in a pending federal court case by telling a litigant that it can violate a federal court order is contrary to law."
Orrick has repeatedly denied the center's requests to stay discovery or invoke blanket Fifth Amendment immunity to avoid answering questions and discovery requests from the National Abortion Federation. Last month, the Ninth Circuit rejected CMP's petition to stay discovery in the lawsuit.
The National Abortion Federation, an industry trade group for abortion providers, claims that the Center for Medical Progress signed a confidentiality contract agreeing not to disclose any information from its meetings and to be bound by injunctive relief to stop it from disclosing those details.
CMP claims Orrick's restraining order represents an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.
On Oct. 2, Orrick barred CMP from turning over any materials covered by the restraining order to the House subcommittee until he issues a ruling, despite last week's letter from Chaffetz demanding full and immediate compliance with the subpoena.
The subpoena, first issued to CMP executive director David Daleiden on Sept. 15, requests all unedited video footage, documents and communications relating to the acquisition, preparation and sale of fetal tissue.
"We will continue to urge the court to lift the temporary injunction on David Daleiden and allow him to release this footage to the public, so that the American people can make their own assessment of the practices of Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation," Breen said in a statement.
The Arizona Attorney General's office has also issued a subpoena seeking the secretly recorded footage and other information CMP obtained from NAF.
Derek Foran, an attorney for the National Abortion Federation with Morrison & Foerster of San Francisco, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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