Judge rules Capitol Hill raid was legal
Judge rules Capitol Hill raid was legal
House lawyers charged FBI search violated separation
Monday, July 10, 2006; Posted: 5:26 p.m. EDT (21:26
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An FBI raid on a Louisiana
congressman's Capitol Hill office was legal, a federal
judge ruled Monday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said members
of Congress are not above the law. He rejected
requests from lawmakers and Democratic Rep. William
Jefferson to return material seized by the FBI in a
May 20-21 search of Jefferson's office.
In a 28-page opinion, Hogan dismissed arguments that
the first-ever raid on a congressman's office violated
the Constitution's protections against intimidation of
elected officials.(Opinionexternal link -- PDF)
Jefferson's theory of legislative privilege "would
have the effect of converting every congressional
office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for
crime," the judge said.
Hogan acknowledged the "unprecedented" nature of the
case but said "a Member of Congress is generally bound
to the operation of the criminal laws as are ordinary
Congress' effectiveness "is not threatened by
permitting congressional offices to be searched
pursuant to validly issued search warrants," said
Hogan, who had approved the FBI's request to conduct
the overnight search of Jefferson's office.
Jefferson had sought the return of several computer
hard drives, floppy disks and two boxes of paper
documents that FBI agents seized during an 18-hour
search of his Rayburn Building office.
At issue was a constitutional provision known as the
speech and debate clause, which protects elected
officials from being questioned by the president, a
prosecutor or a plaintiff in a lawsuit about their
"No one argues that the warrant executed upon
Congressman Jefferson's office was not properly
administered," Hogan wrote. "Therefore, there was no
impermissible intrusion on the Legislature. The fact
that some privileged material was incidentally
captured by the search does not constitute an unlawful
The raid on Jefferson's office angered members of
Congress, some of whom threatened to retaliate by
tinkering with the FBI and Justice Department budgets.
President Bush stepped in and ordered the solicitor
general to take custody of the seized materials so
Congress and the Justice Department could work out
procedures to deal with similar situations in the
The president's 45-day "cooling off period" ended
Sunday with no compromise worked out but with
assurances from the Justice Department that it would
not seek to regain custody of the materials until
Hogan ruled on Jefferson's request.
Because Hogan signed the search warrant authorizing
the search, Jefferson's legal team was not surprised
by his ruling upholding it.
"While a Congressman is not above the law, the
executive branch must also follow the law," said
Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout. "We appreciate the
consideration the judge accorded our motion for the
return of the seized property, but we respectfully
disagree with his conclusion, and we intend to appeal
Hogan said a search warrant seeking material is very
different than a subpoena seeking testimony.
"Jefferson may never be questioned regarding his
legitimate legislative activities, is immune from
civil or criminal liability for those activities, and
no privileged material may ever be used against him in
court," the judge wrote.
Jefferson has been under investigation since March
2005 for allegedly using his position to promote the
sale of telecommunications equipment and services
offered by iGate, a Louisville-based firm, that sought
contracts with Nigeria, Ghana and other African
In return for his help, Jefferson allegedly demanded
stock and cash payments. Jefferson has not been
charged and has denied wrongdoing.
An affidavit filed with Hogan to justify the May
search says the FBI videotaped Jefferson in August
2005 accepting $100,000 from a business executive, who
actually was a government informant. The FBI said it
subsequently recovered $90,000 from a freezer at
A bipartisan group of House leaders told Hogan in a
court filing that the Justice Department had
overstepped its authority by prohibiting Jefferson's
private lawyer, House counsel and the Capitol Police
from observing the search of Jefferson's office.
They also complained that agents showed up at the
Rayburn Office Building unannounced and demanded that
the Capitol Police chief let them into Jefferson's
office immediately or they would "pick the office door
Hogan said investigators don't have to seek approval
from elected officials or their lawyers to seize
possible proof of a crime.
"The power to determine the scope of one's own
privilege is not available to any other person,
including members of the co-equal branches of
government: federal judges ... or the President of the
United States," the judge said.
He also said judges have a legitimate role to play in
ensuring prosecutors don't overstep their authority in
"A federal judge is not a mere rubber stamp in the
warrant process, but rather an independent and neutral
official sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution,"