MAY 15, 2007
The veteran Louisiana congressman caught with a $90,000 cash bribe in his freezer became the first in U.S. history to have his Capitol Hill office raided and now he wants an appeals court to rule the search unconstitutional.
As the target of a 16-month public corruption probe, Louisiana Representative William Jefferson was actually videotaped by the Federal Bureau of Investigation accepting the hefty cash bribe in mid 2005. Authorities say the nine-term Democratic congressman was involved in a huge bribery scandal featuring a Nigerian telecommunications company seeking contracts.
So FBI agents raided Jefferson’s Northeast Virginia home and found $90,000 of the cash in his freezer wrapped in aluminum foil. Agents also searched and took evidence from his Capitol Hill office, marking the only such raid on a federal lawmaker’s quarters since the first Congress 218 years ago.
This week Jefferson will argue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the FBI search was unconstitutional because it trampled on congressional independence and violated the constitutionally established separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. In other words, Jefferson claims that he is above the law.
A federal judge authorized last year’s unprecedented 18-hour search which led to the seizure of records, equipment and other incriminating evidence. Prosecutors say Jefferson wants to pick and choose the evidence that can be used against him in this massive corruption scandal.
Because this case is the first case of its kind the court’s three-judge panel will break new legal ground. The panel features two Republican-appointed judges (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and a Bill Clinton appointee. Jefferson’s attorneys say it is vital that the remedy imposed be sufficiently stringent to deter future searches.
Judicial Watch filed and amicus curaie brief with the court on April 6, stating that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects members of Congress from “intimidation by the executive and accountability before a possible hostile judiciary,” does not make the search of Jefferson’s office unconstitutional. The Speech or Debate Clause, the brief states, only protects members of Congress conducting legislative actions.
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