The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson describes hostile questioning
by Washington bureau
Thursday January 17, 2008, 2:31 PM

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Congressman William Jefferson accused FBI agents Thursday of lying in court and yelling at him during what he said was a hostile interrogation in his New Orleans home in August 2005.

It marked Jefferson's first statements in open court since he pleaded not guilty in his arraignment in June of last year.

Jefferson, who is facing 16 bribery-related charges in federal court, also denied testimony by FBI agents that the nine-term Democrat had asked them to cover up a video tape of him receiving $100,000 in cash in order to protect his reputation.

During an hour and 22 minutes of testimony in a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court, Jefferson described a scene of agents hovering over his every move as they questioned him about his business dealings in West Africa. Two agents earlier testified that they were welcomed into Jefferson's Marengo Street home where they interviewed the congressman and searched his home without incident.

But Jefferson said his every movement was closely scrutinized. He said at one point he asked to go to the bathroom and was followed closely by an FBI agent.

"I said are you going to follow me to the bathroom," Jefferson said. "And he said 'Yes.' He walked behind me close to my shoulder. I tried to reach (to close) the door, but he was in the door. I said are you going to watch me pee and he said 'yes.'"

Jefferson acknowledged that when agents showed up at his door at 7 a.m. Aug. 3, 2005, he invited them in.

"I never thought I had done anything wrong I should worry about talking to these agents about," he said. "I wanted to be cooperative."

Jefferson is seeking to suppress statements he made to the agents during that two-hour interview and some documents they seized during the search of his home. He said in testimony he didn't feel free to leave his home or make phone calls during the questioning.

Jefferson's attorney has argued that the congressman should have been read his rights under those circumstances. The defense team also said that agents went beyond the scope of the search warrant in seizing or copying some documents.

FBI agent Tim Thibault testified Wednesday that Jefferson received three phone calls and made one while the agents were there. Thibault produced phone records showing the time and length of the calls.

Jefferson, however, said he didn't make any calls and that his Blackberry phone was in his bedroom and turned off the entire time he met with the agents.

For the first time in the high-profile case, Jefferson was confronted in court about the $100,000 in cash the FBI says he received from government informant Lori Mody.

In questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, Jefferson admitted accepting the brief case in the parking lot of the Ritz Carlton hotel days before the August 2005 search. But Judge T.S. Ellis III cut off questioning before Jefferson could explain why he took the money, $90,000 of which the FBI found in the freezer of his Capitol Hill home.

Jefferson said the money also was a topic during the FBI interview in his home.

He said Thibault yelled at him. "Where's my goddam money?"

Jefferson said that's when he decided to end the interview and stopped answering questions.

Pending Judge Ellis' ruling on the search and interview and other issues, Jefferson is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 25.

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