FBI Raid on Jefferson Was Justified, Legal Group Claims

By Kate Monaghan | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A legal watchdog group insists that the FBI's recent raid of Louisiana Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's office was perfectly legal, despite the subsequent complaints about the raid by both Republican and Democratic leaders of the House.

"Nowhere in the Constitution is there immunity from investigation for members of Congress. It just isn't there," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. "There is nothing there that says that they can't be subject to the same type of investigatory processes as every other American. They're American citizens."

Jefferson has been the focus of a bribery investigation for more than a year, but still has not been charged with any crime. Last week he called the raid on his Washington, D.C., office an "outrageous intrusion."

He also found support from an unusual source -- Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert from Illinois, who questioned whether the FBI raid had violated the constitutional separation of powers between the executive branch and Congress.

In an op/ed published in USA Today, Hastert wrote that he was troubled by the FBI's aggressive tactics during the May 20 raid. "The issue that has concerned me, as Speaker, since Saturday night is not if the FBI should be able to search a member of Congress' office, but rather how to do it within the boundaries of the Constitution," Hastert wrote.

He explained that he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had "directed the lawyers for the House to develop reasonable protocols and procedures that will make it possible for the FBI to go into congressional offices to constitutionally-execute a search warrant."

But Boehm accused Hastert and Pelosi of "making an argument that they know does not exist."

"They can't point to a single court case. They can't point to any section or clause of the Constitution. And so when I say they're making the argument in bad faith, it's in bad faith because it's not there," Boehm told Cybercast News Service.

Hastert cited tradition in criticizing the FBI raid on Jefferson's office. "In more than 219 years, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to use a search warrant to obtain documents from a congressional office," the House speaker wrote.

"I regret that when they reached this conclusion, they did not work with us to figure out a way to do it consistently with the Constitution," Hastert added in his USA Today op/ed. He also praised President Bush for ordering that the documents seized from Jefferson's office be kept beyond the reach of prosecutors for 45 days until the constitutional issues are resolved.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner also conducted a hearing Tuesday as part of the panel's investigation of the FBI raid.

But Boehm argued that members of Congress deserve to be treated in the same manner as anyone else who might have broken the law.

"I think the American public is entitled to know that members of Congress who break the law are going to be investigated and then prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he said. "And when Republican and Democratic leaders try to stop that they're sending a message and the message is: we're above the law. And that's the wrong message."

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