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Judge rules Capitol Hill raid was legal

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/07/10/jefferson.ruling.ap/index.html Judge rules Capitol Hill raid was legal House lawyers charged FBI search violated
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10, 2006
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      http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/07/10/jefferson.ruling.ap/index.html

      Judge rules Capitol Hill raid was legal

      House lawyers charged FBI search violated separation
      of powers

      Monday, July 10, 2006; Posted: 5:26 p.m. EDT (21:26
      GMT)

      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
      persons."

      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
      legislative work.

      "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
      intrusion."

      Bipartisan anger

      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
      future.

      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
      the ruling."

      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
      nations.

      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
      Jefferson's home.

      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
      lock."

      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
      investigating legislators.

      "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,"
      Hogan said.
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