In a surprising turn, the lead investigator in the federal case against Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr. testified Wednesday that he tipped off an Inquirer reporter in 2012 to FBI raids at Fattah's Ritz-Carlton condo and offices at Logan Square.
Under questioning from prosecutors, FBI Special Agent Richard Haag said he contacted reporter Martha Woodall during the investigation to learn more about Fattah's work at a for-profit education firm. In exchange, he said, he gave Woodall limited information about the federal probe. He said he did not share any grand jury material.
Haag's revelation kicked off a chaotic day in court and prompted Fattah to call for a mistrial.
It also marked the first time federal authorities have confirmed that there is at least some truth behind one of Fattah's long-standing complaints.
In a lawsuit he filed last year against the FBI, the IRS, and the U.S. Justice Department, Fattah contended that agents gave the press advance notice of the raids. The resulting publicity, he alleged, damaged his reputation and career long before he was charged with a crime.
Both Fattah and his father, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) - who faces federal corruption charges in a separate case - seized on the admission Wednesday to argue that Justice Department officials acted improperly in pursuing their prosecutions.
Members of the congressman's legal team arrived in court after word of Haag's testimony filtered out.
Later, Riley H. Ross III, one of the representative's lawyers, called Haag's admission "a serious issue."
"You can believe we're keeping our eye out and looking into it," he said.
Fattah Jr. noted that Haag, along with Assistant U.S. District Attorneys Paul Gray and Eric Gibson, is handling the case against his father, who stands accused of misappropriating thousands of dollars in federal grant funds, charitable donations, campaign contributions.
"This is yet the latest revelation that this federal investigation into my business, my personal finances, and my father is entirely based on personal animosity on the part of this particular FBI agent and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Gray and Eric Gibson," Fattah Jr. said.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle denied Fattah's request for a mistrial. But he called an abrupt end to the day's testimony to allow Fattah and the government time to plan their next moves.
Gray said in court that he only learned of Haag's role as an Inquirer source early Wednesday.
Haag is expected to return Thursday for cross-examination from Fattah, who is representing himself with the assistance of a federal public defender.
Haag testified that he developed a source relationship with Woodall - who has written since 2001 about charter schools and the Philadelphia School District - in the summer of 2011, when his investigation of Fattah Jr. took an unexpected turn.
Fattah had been caught on FBI recordings telling a friend about his work with Delaware Valley High School, a for-profit education firm that held contracts with the Philadelphia School District. He boasted of furthering the business' interests by swaying a Philadelphia city councilman's vote with campaign contributions, and said his father had influenced district contract negotiations with Delaware Valley High.
Neither the congressman nor his son has been charged in connection with those claims.
Fattah Jr. is accused of bilking the School District out of more than $50,000 meant to pay for school counselors at Delaware Valley High.
Haag told jurors Wednesday that he reached out to Woodall because she had written stories about several people Fattah Jr. mentioned on the recordings.
"She had access to the information I was seeking," he said, adding later: "I would say I was more the driver of those conversations."
Asked by prosecutors why he only disclosed his conversations with Woodall on Wednesday morning, Haag said he had not been asked before.
"I realized at some point, Mr. Fattah might bring it up," he said. "I felt it was my responsibility to provide you with that information."
After court had concluded, Fattah told a group of reporters that he felt the FBI and The Inquirer had worked against him by pooling information.
"For the first time in my life, I'm disappointed in the editorial function of The Philadelphia Inquirer," he said.
Woodall declined to comment. Inquirer editor William K. Marimow described her as an "excellent reporter and a person of the highest caliber of integrity."
"In covering a developing case of this complexity, a reporter would naturally try to secure information from federal law enforcement officials, Chaka Fattah and his associates, and all available public documents in order to understand all tangents of the investigation," Marimow said.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday with Haag's cross-examination and the start of Fattah's defense case.
Fattah said his first witness will be former Gov. Ed Rendell. Rendell did not return requests for comment.