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Congress vs. Martha Stewart

Aug 12, 2002 | The Rocky Mountain News Martha Stewart needs no help from the likes of us, but let us take up our homemade, hand-decorated cudgel and wade in on her behalf anyway.

Whether or not she profited unfairly or illegally from an insider stock deal, her company, her products and her reputation have taken a fearful beating. And now a congressional committee is piling on, for no good reason at all.

The House Commerce Committee has just demanded a second round of documents, e-mails, phone numbers, business records and its investigators are seeking to interrogate her. And if she refuses, says Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., "Bring her in and if she wants to take the Fifth (amendment), that's her right."

The SEC is already investigating whether Stewart profited by what for her was an inconsequential $227,000 from insider knowledge by dumping a biotech stock the day before it tanked. The CEO of ImClone and a friend of Stewart's, Sam Waksal, has been indicted on assorted insider trading, fraud and forgery charges.

The awesomely successful and envy-inspiring Stewart does have a certain know-it-all perfectionism that has caused some people to take delight in seeing her treated like a perp. But it's hard to see what the committee hopes to accomplish by humiliating Stewart. There's no legislation to come out of this, and such facts as are found will be found by the SEC. And as long as she faces possible criminal charges, she would be crazy not to take the Fifth.

Even if the SEC finds her guilty, the worst that's likely to happen is that she'll have to turn over all the profits and pay a fat fine.

But celebrities at congressional hearings bring excitement, glamour and, most of all, attention to the legislative process. That's why Congress has her in its sights - and it's the only reason.

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