- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear an appeal by the Justice Department to overturn a court ruling saying the May 20, 2006, raid by FBI agents of Rep. William J. Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office was unconsitututional.

In a major victory for the Louisiana Democrat, the ruling means that thousands of pages of documents and other items seized in the raid, none of which have been turned over to prosecutors, will have to be reviewed to determine if they are privileged under the Speech or Debate Clause — a constitutional privilege that protects lawmakers from legal action for legislative activities.

In August, a federal appeals court panel ruled that FBI agents violated Jefferson’s constitutional rights when they raided his office in a bribery and corruption investigation. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit required the Justice Department to return privileged documents taken from the Rayburn Building, but did not include the $90,000 FBI agents found in the freezer of the lawmaker’s Washington home.

The appeals court said the agents crossed the line when they seized records without giving Jefferson a chance to argue that some involved privileged legislative business. The court rejected a Justice Department claim that invalidating the search would prohibit the FBI from seeking a lawmaker’s documents in a criminal probe.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the court ruling at the time for upholding what she called “the separation of power and checks and balances.”

“Let’s put it this way: The White House wouldn’t like it if we sent the Capitol Police over there to search in Karl Rove’s desk,” the California Democrat said.

The FBI targeted Jefferson in a suspected bribery scheme in his promotion of telecommunications equipment and services in Africa. In June, a federal grand jury in Alexandria returned a 16-count indictment accusing Jefferson, 60, of seeking bribes for himself and his family. He was charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson pleaded not guilty in June to the charges.

The indictment said that from August 2000 to August 2005, Jefferson used his office to “corruptly seek, solicit and direct that things of value” be paid to him and his family in exchange for his performing official acts.

Two of Jefferson’s associates struck plea agreements with prosecutors, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and were sentenced: Brett M. Pfeffer, a former member of Jefferson’s staff, pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes on behalf of his boss and Vernon L. Jackson, president and chief executive officer of the Louisville-based telecommunications firm IGate, pleaded guilty to paying from $400,000 to $1 million in bribes to Jefferson.

Court records said Jefferson was videotaped taking a $100,000 cash bribe from an FBI informant, $90,000 of which was later found in his freezer wrapped in aluminum foil.

In its unanimous ruling, the appeals court panel said that given the Justice Department’s voluntary freeze of its review of the seized materials and procedures mandated by the court in granting the congressman’s motion for emergency relief pending appeal, the imaging and keyword search of Jefferson’s computer hard drives and electronic media exposed no legislative material to the executive and did not violate the Speech or Debate Clause.

But it said the review of the congressman’s paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material and violated the clause.

“The compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant … violated the Speech or Debate Clause and the congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged under the clause,” said Appeals Court Judge Judith W Rogers in the majority opinion.

Concurring were Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg and Judge Karen L. Henderson.

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