- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Louisiana Democrat being investigated in a bribery scandal yesterday filed a legal motion demanding that the FBI return documents seized from his Capitol Hill office, while House leaders called the raid unconstitutional in a rare bipartisan joint statement.

Attorneys for Rep. William J. Jefferson asked the judge who approved the search warrant to lock up the documents and computer files and to prohibit the FBI and Justice Department from reviewing them.

Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California echoed the request, urging the Justice Department to return the items taken from Mr. Jefferson’s office.

“No person is above the law, neither the one being investigated, nor those conducting the investigation,” read the statement from the two party leaders, issued in an election year when partisan bickering is more common than cooperation.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hastert — who also complained to President Bush and are reportedly drafting a joint resolution frowning on the raid — said constitutional principles are supposed to protect from abuses of power, “and those principles deserve to be vigorously defended.”

Also yesterday, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, announced a hearing next week, “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”

Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, called the remarks from Mr. Hastert and Mrs. Pelosi self-serving amid ongoing ethical scandals. Mr. Vitter, a lawyer, said no location should be off-limits and questioned their legal argument.

Reacting with attempts to limit searches of Hill offices will “destroy” the little faith and confidence the American people have in Congress and will lead them to think that “congressional leaders are trying to protect their own from valid investigations,” he said.

Lawmakers opposed to the search cited the “Speech or Debate” clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants immunity to members of Congress from prosecution for their legislative actions, but prominent law professors disagreed.

The clause is “perfectly clear” that a congressional office is not “legislative sanctuary,” said Jesse Choper, a constitutional law professor at the Boalt School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley.

His Berkeley colleague Daniel Farber agreed, saying: “Suppose the member was keeping drugs in the office. I just can’t see how it would be exempt from search.”

Tasia Scolinos, public-affairs director at the Justice Department, defended the search as “lawful and necessary” under unusual circumstances because investigators had tried since August to obtain the evidence in question.

Also yesterday, Mrs. Pelosi sent Mr. Jefferson a one-sentence letter asking him to resign from his position on the powerful Ways and Means Committee to uphold “the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus.”

Mr. Jefferson, who has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing, promptly declined. In a return letter, he told Mrs. Pelosi that his New Orleans district is counting on him to secure funds for hurricane recovery.

“If I agreed, it would unfairly punish the people of the 2nd District, and I will not stand for that,” he said, adding the request is “perplexing and unreasonable” because none of the matters under investigation pertain to his work on that committee. A majority of the House could vote to yank Mr. Jefferson off the panel, but no such request had been made as of yesterday.

Mrs. Pelosi, attempting to take back the House for Democrats, has accused Republicans of being part of a “culture of corruption.” She often invokes former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay along with other Republicans tainted by scandal, when saying her party should be returned to power.

Republican Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina said yesterday Mrs. Pelosi has been living in denial and now sees the “culture of corruption” message is “crumbling under the weight of her party’s multiple ethical scandals.”

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