- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner yesterday said he has “serious concerns” about the Saturday night raid of Rep. William J. Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office by FBI agents in a bribery investigation.

Mr. Boehner was among several House leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, who questioned the weekend search by a team of 15 agents, suggesting that the raid crossed constitutional boundaries and its legality may have to be decided by the Supreme Court.

“Congress will somehow speak to this issue of the Justice Department’s invasion of the legislative branch,” the Ohio Republican said. “In what form, I don’t know.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the Justice Department has a duty to “root out and prosecute corruption wherever it is found, including in the U.S. House of Representatives,” but had never found it necessary “to do what it did Saturday night.”

“I am very concerned about the necessity of a Saturday-night raid on Congressman Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office in pursuit of information that was already under subpoena and at a time when those subpoenas are still pending and all the documents that have been subpoenaed were being preserved,” Mr. Hastert said.

“Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established” since the republic’s founding, he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Justice Department investigations must be conducted in accordance with constitutional protections and historical precedent.

During an unrelated press conference, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he understood Congress’ concern about the search, but he declined to comment on what he called “an ongoing investigation.”

“But of course we understand the equities involved here and the institutional concerns, and we — I intend and I think the executive branch intends to work with the Congress to allay those concerns,” he said.

“I will admit that these were unusual steps that were taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances. I’ll just say that.”

FBI officials referred inquiries to the Justice Department.

White House spokesman Tony Snow disputed news reports describing the search of Mr. Jefferson’s office as a raid, saying the word made it sound like the “cavalry is storming into the halls of Congress.”

He said the administration hoped to “balance the constitutional concerns of the House of Representatives with the law-enforcement obligations of the executive branch.”

Mr. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, is the focus of a 14-month FBI bribery investigation. He was videotaped in July accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant. Agents found $90,000 hidden in a freezer in his Northeast Washington home in August.

In January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, saying the congressman demanded money in exchange for brokering two African telecommunications deals.

Vernon Jackson, chief executive of IGate Inc., a Louisville, Ky., telecommunications firm, pleaded guilty to bribery, saying he gave cash to Mr. Jefferson and his family members in exchange for help obtaining business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

Mr. Jefferson has not been charged in the case and has denied any wrongdoing.

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