The William Jefferson Chronicles

Justice Department says raid on Rep. Jefferson's office was constitutional
11:11 AM CDT on Saturday, March 31, 2007

Matt Apuzzo / Associated Press -

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court Friday not to force it to return thousands of documents seized last year during an FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's office.

Jefferson, D-Louisiana, has said the raid was unconstitutional because it trampled on congressional independence. In court documents filed Friday, the Justice Department defended the raid and said Jefferson's view essentially prohibits the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker's documents.

The raid was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman's Louisiana home.

If Jefferson had his way, Justice Department attorneys wrote, targets of congressional bribery investigations would have the right to review documents before a raid and decide which ones to turn over to the FBI.

"In other words, the target of the search would be entitled to define the scope of the search," government attorneys wrote.

A federal judge authorized the unprecedented 18-hour search last year but the bulk of the investigation has essentially been on hold since last summer because a federal judge is reviewing the records to decide what the FBI may use in the case.

Jefferson believes many of the 19,000 pages of seized documents and electronic files relate to congressional business and cannot be used against him.

The Justice Department said it took extraordinary steps to avoid infringing on Jefferson's independence. But the Constitution was written to protect lawmakers from prosecution regarding their government duties -- not to shield them from prosecution for political corruption.

Jefferson was re-elected to Congress last year.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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