Raid on Rep. Jefferson's Office Yields Legal Mess A 2006 FBI raid on the office of Rep. William Jefferson was the first of its kind. The case has since been tied up by legal wrangling over the FBI's authority in carrying out a search warrant. Tuesday, three federal appeals judges tried to untangle the legal morass.
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Raid on Rep. Jefferson's Office Yields Legal Mess

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Raid on Rep. Jefferson's Office Yields Legal Mess

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Raid on Rep. Jefferson's Office Yields Legal Mess

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY: The big mystery is why the FBI raided Jefferson's office in the first place. He has always insisted on his innocence, as he did in the media clamor after the raid.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON: There are two sides to every story. There are certainly two sides to this story. There will be an appropriate time and forum when that can be explained and explicated.

OVERBY: But Jefferson and some congressional legal experts say the raid on his office violated the Constitution. The speech-or-debate clause protects federal lawmakers in their legislative duties. So why, asks Melanie Sloan of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, why did the FBI go for that search warrant?

MELANIE SLOAN: That's the $64 million question.

OVERBY: And yesterday three federal appeals judges quizzed lawyers for Jefferson and the Justice Department. Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, said in court, and again in an interview, that the speech-or-debate clause is an absolute protection.

ROBERT TROUT: Which means that the members have the absolute right to shield their legislative activities from forced or involuntary disclosure. But in this case the FBI went into a congressional office and for the first time in our country's history conducted a wholesale search and seizure.

OVERBY: Meanwhile, House Democrats removed Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee. Republicans pointed to him as evidence of Democratic corruption. His constituents in New Orleans re-elected him. And, Trout point out, Jefferson has sorted through the seized documents.

TROUT: We have had an opportunity to review documents for privilege and we have completed our review, and it's now pending before the court.

OVERBY: How many pages are we talking about here?

TROUT: About 47,000 pages.

OVERBY: Melanie Sloan - no fan of Jefferson's - says the raid could undermine the whole case against him.

SLOAN: While I certainly believe that the Justice Department had every right to search the congressional office, that congressional offices are not sacrosanct, it was clearly an unwise decision in this case, because it is in fact holding up the prosecution of a sitting congressman who is very likely a criminal.

OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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