Leavitt seeks to avoid contempt charge in Congressional hearings

WASHINGTON Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt is seeking to avoid a possible contempt of Congress charge from the House of Representatives.

The House is asking for compliance by the secretary in regards to a subpoena for documents that related to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Sanofi-Aventis’ antibiotic Ketek. The drugmaker was banned from selling the drug for bronchitis and sinusitis last month after liver damage and death were shown to be linked with taking the medication.

Leavitt initially had refused to produce the documents in response to a subpoena the committee issued Feb. 1. The committee had requested a briefing book and related notes used to help FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach prepare for a March 22, 2007, hearing on the drug.

However, in a Feb. 29 letter responding to the contempt threat, the HHS secretary says the agency is “prepared to offer the committee access to the briefing book in a reading room setting within [HHS] facilities … and provide access to FDA staff for the purpose of engaging in further discussions about the contents of the book and how it was prepared.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote back to Leavitt, calling his response “a positive first step in resolving this impasse” but adding that the committee is “disappointed that it does not appear to adequately address certain outstanding areas of contention.”

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