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Friday, May 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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McDermott taps Clinton to bail him out on huge legal bill and save home

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rep. Jim McDermott doesn't need to raise money for another term in the House. It's his Queen Anne home that could be in financial jeopardy.

Mired in the first lawsuit among members of Congress, McDermott is enlisting the star-power of former President Clinton to help fill the coffers of his legal defense fund.

While details aren't firm, the Seattle Democrat said Clinton will appear at the Seattle Center on June 3 for a conversation about the First Amendment. He said neither ticket prices nor fundraising goals have been determined.

Earlier that day, Clinton will attend a fundraising luncheon for Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle. Those tickets will sell for $250 and more.

McDermott is embroiled in a civil suit, filed by an Ohio Republican, over whether the dissemination of an intercepted cellphone conversation of public officials should be considered free speech.

Legal experts say it's possible McDermott's Seattle home, assessed at $781,000, could become involved if McDermott loses and is forced to pay a hefty judgment.

"We're not playing badminton here," McDermott said. "We're playing serious hardball. I'm not worried that they are going to win, but there is that possibility, and you got to be prepared."

On Jan. 8, 1997, a Florida couple gave McDermott a tape of Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, talking on his cellphone about a pending Ethics Committee probe of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

At the time, Gingrich was publicly promising not to organize opposition to the ethics probe, and the cellphone conversation suggested he was violating his pledge.

McDermott, then the highest-ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee, leaked the tape to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The New York Times, which later ran a front-page story.

Boehner sued McDermott, charging the liberal lawmaker had violated state and federal wiretapping laws.

Last month, McDermott asked the full nine-member U.S. Court of Appeals to take the case after a three-judge panel ruled against him.

The appeals court ordered McDermott to pay Boehner about $700,000 — $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.

The Jim McDermott Legal Expense Trust set up to help pay his legal bills has raised more than $350,000 since 2000, according to congressional filings.

McDermott said he has known Clinton for years and traveled with him to India, South America and Africa. When the Clinton administration tried to hash out health-care legislation in the early 1990s, McDermott, a psychiatrist, spent a lot of time with Hillary Clinton, who was leading the White House's efforts, although they supported different plans.

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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