Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jefferson tried to hide papers and congress critters go nuts.

Politics: Congress critters protecting their own.

The Justice Department yesterday vigorously defended the recent weekend raid of Rep. William J. Jefferson's Capitol Hill office as part of a bribery investigation, asserting that the Democratic lawmaker attempted to hide documents from FBI agents while they were searching his New Orleans home last August. The government questioned in a 34-page motion filed in U.S. District Court here whether it could have obtained all the materials it had sought in a subpoena if it had not launched the surprise raid on Jefferson's congressional office May 20. According to the government filing, an FBI agent caught Jefferson slipping documents into a blue bag in the living room of his New Orleans home during a search. ....Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said he wants Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to appear "up here to tell us how they reached the conclusion" to conduct the raid, which Sensenbrenner called "profoundly disturbing" on constitutional grounds. The chairman also said that his committee "will be working promptly" to draft legislation that would clearly prohibit wide-ranging searches of lawmakers' offices by federal officials pursuing criminal cases.
It must be nice since all that does is create safe houses out of offices for any wrongdoing. I understand the constitutional argument to a point, but to try make a wide ranging law against searches involving a criminal investigation is ridiculous.
The Justice Department's court filing and Sensenbrenner's comments -- made during a hearing in which constitutional scholars sharply criticized the May 20 raid -- ran counter to recent efforts by President Bush and key lawmakers to calm down talk of a constitutional standoff. Bush last week ordered the seized materials to be sealed for 45 days, allowing time for tempers to cool and for lawyers and elected officials to confer. But Sensenbrenner and several committee colleagues yesterday described the FBI's weekend search of Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building as an arrogant, unnecessary breach of tradition and vital constitutional protections. The FBI had several other ways to compel Jefferson to surrender specific items, they said. The copying of Jefferson's computer hard drive, they said, was akin to rifling through every file cabinet, including files dealing with matters unrelated to the alleged crimes. The Constitution says House and Senate members "shall not be questioned . . . for any Speech or Debate in either House." Bruce Fein, one of the constitutional lawyers who testified yesterday, said that "when it comes to documents, the only way you can search is to read everything. And when you read everything, you encroach on the 'Speech or Debate' clause." Noting that Gonzales, Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty signaled that they would resign if they were forced to return the Jefferson documents, Fein said: "Well, let them resign. I am astonished that the president would not have fired them for undertaking this action without consulting him in advance." In yesterday's court filing, the government argued that law enforcement authorities should not be barred from conducting searches of congressional offices simply because they contain legislative materials -- such as committee reports, internal memos and drafts of bills -- that are protected under the "Speech or Debate" clause. "If his argument is accepted by this court, members of Congress and their staffs would be able to create search-free zones wherever they go by bringing along some legislative materials," the government said of Jefferson, 59, who has been under investigation since March 2005 over allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his congressional influence to promote business ventures in Africa.

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