Judge rules raid of congressman’s office within law

first_imgWASHINGTON – While acknowledging the unprecedented nature of the FBI search of Rep. William J. Jefferson’s legislative offices, a federal judge ruled on Monday that the seizure of records there was legal and did not violate the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch. The first-ever search of a congressional office had touched off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers joined in bipartisan protests to the Bush administration over the Justice Department’s decision to seek evidence of bribery on legislative ground. President George W. Bush personally intervened and ordered the seized documents temporarily sealed. The constitutional battle will not end with the decision on Monday by Judge Thomas F. Hogan of federal district court. Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert F. Trout, quickly announced that he would appeal. And while Hogan said the documents seized in an overnight raid on May 20 and 21, including computer hard drives and boxes of records, could now be turned over to investigators, the defense is likely to seek a stay of that release. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2In a statement announcing the appeal, Trout said: “A bipartisan group of House leaders joined us in court to argue that these procedures were in direct violation of the speech or debate clause of the Constitution, which the framers specifically designed to protect legislators from intimidation by the legislative and judicial branches.” The Justice Department and the House leadership have been in negotiations over new procedures in case other search warrants for congressional offices are sought by investigators. While Jefferson is a Democrat, wide-ranging corruption investigations have ensnared aides to several Republican congressmen this year. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said those discussions “about harmonizing policies and procedures for possible future searches,” would continue. Of the decision, Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said, “At this point, we’re standing clear and letting both sides assess it.” Hogan’s ruling was not altogether surprising, given the nature of his questions at a court hearing last month. He also signed the original warrant, finding that investigators had probable cause to search Jefferson’s office in their pursuit of a case involving allegations that the congressman received bribes of stock and cash from a business in his home state of Louisiana in exchange for promoting the sale of its services and equipment to African countries. Agents said they found $90,000 in cash in frozen-food containers in Jefferson’s freezer at his home here. Some documents remained sealed in the case. Jefferson, who has not been indicted, was stripped of his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee last month because of the inquiry. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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