Monday, July 10, 2006

Raid on Jefferson's Office Legal

A federal judge ruled that the FBI search of the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was legal. The text of the opinion is here. Go figure.
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.

"Congress' capacity to function effectively 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."

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.
No one is above the law, least of all members of Congress. Jefferson was already caught with $90,000 in cold hard cash found in his freezer and is being investigated for bribery, which is just the tip of the iceberg.

Some members of Congress, including leaders of the GOP stepped in to defend Jefferson, which speaks poorly of the battles to be fought. Defending a corrupt politician isn't the way to defend the separation of powers.

There was no violation of the speech and debate clause by searching Jefferson's office. That was the crux of the criticism of the Administration and the FBI search of Jefferson's office. Nothing quite like the bluster falling flat in the face of cogent legal analysis.

Others noting the fact that everything done by the FBI was legit and legal, and all the House succeeded in doing was look like a bunch of arses: Flopping Aces, Ace of Spades, Wizbang, Wizbang Politics, and Rhymes with Right.

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