Category Archive 'William Jefferson'

04 Aug 2007

Appeals Court Rules Jefferson Raid Illegal



The FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided U.S. Rep. William Jefferson’s office last year and viewed legislative documents, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The court ordered the Justice Department to return any privileged documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat’s office on Capitol Hill. The court did not order the return of all the documents seized in the raid.

Jefferson argued that the first-of-its-kind raid trampled congressional independence. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker’s documents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected that claim. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the search itself was constitutional but that FBI agents crossed the line when they viewed every record in the office without giving Jefferson the chance to argue that some documents involved legislative business.

“The review of the Congressman’s paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive” and violated the Constitution, the court wrote. “The Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged.”

The raid was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman’s Washington home.

Jefferson pleaded not guilty in June to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. The Justice Department said it built that case without using the disputed documents from the raid.

The court did not rule whether, because portions of the search were illegal, prosecutors should be barred from using any of the records in their case against Jefferson. That will be decided by the federal judge in Virginia who is presiding over the criminal case.

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision that makes it clear that the search violated the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution,” Jefferson’s attorney, Robert Trout, said after a brief review of the ruling. He said he has not yet discussed the decision with Jefferson.

The Justice Department did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the decision. Officials have said they took extraordinary steps, including using an FBI “filter team” not involved in the case to review the congressional documents. Government attorneys said the Constitution was not intended to shield lawmakers from prosecution for political corruption.

The court was not convinced. It said the Constitution insists that lawmakers must be free from any intrusion into their congressional duties. Such intrusion, even by a filter team, “may therefore chill the exchange of views with respect to legislative activity,” the court held.

The case has cut across political party lines. Former House Speakers Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and Thomas Foley, a Democrat, filed legal documents opposing the raid, along with former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, a Republican.

Conservative groups Judicial Watch and the Washington Legal Foundation were joined by the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in supporting the legality of the raid.

This blog differed
from most conservative blogs last year at the time of the raid, believing that Article I. Section 6 providing for Congressional immunity from arrest while Congress is in session would very likely be interpreted by the court as precluding a raid on a Congressman’s office.

Of course, the matter is certain to go on to the Supreme Court. I think they will very probably hear the case, and I think it is most likely that they will uphold the First Circuit’s ruling.

23 May 2006

The Jefferson Case

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FBI agents reportedly searched the House office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA, on Saturday evening and last Sunday in connection with a bribery and corruption investigation.

Prominent Repubican Congressional leaders, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and current Speaker Dennis Hastert, have criticized the FBI’s conduct, and raised Constitutional objections.

Some of the most respected voices on the right side of the Blogosphere, including Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, and Roger L. Simon have objected to the position taken by the Speakers.

Our good friends need to pause for breath, and reflect seriously. The principle of separation of powers matters greatly. Congressional immunity from arrest matters tremendously. These principles of Republican government are infinitely more important than the successful conviction of one more corrupt democrat congressman. History demonstrates abundantly that we can survive the culture of political corruption of the democrat party. But free government could readily be brought to an end by the domination of the several branches of the federal government by a single branch.

In recent history, Congress has been far more guilty than the Executive of arrogating unauthorized powers to itself, and attacking the Executive on the basis of trumped up and exaggerated charges. But, it is certainly possible to imagine an aggressive ultra-liberal president trying to remove Congressional opposition by false allegations of corruption. Some of us believe that the House Majority Leader was successfuly removed by false charges lodged by a partisan county prosecutor in Texas.

It is on rare occasions like this, in which political leaders take principled positions, ignoring their own party’s interests, that our faith in our system of government and its institutions is justified and confirmed.

Read the US Constitution, Article I. Section 6 which states:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

I think it is impossible to avoid considering Congressional offices as part of the “going to and returning from the same” aspect of Congressional attendance. And the 18th century concept of a felony would apply to what were then commonly capital crimes of violence, not to ordinary bribery and corruption.

Of course, the determination of all this may, and should be left to the wisdom of Third Branch of the Federal Government, the Supreme Court. But, in the meantime, we should be proud that Republican Legislative leaders will defend the rights of their branch of government, even in the case of its least worthy member.

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