Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Judge Rules Search Of Jefferson's Congressional Office Legal

A federal judge in Washington has ruled that elected politicians are not above the law.

A federal judge in Washington ruled yesterday that the unprecedented FBI raid on Rep. William J. Jefferson's Capitol Hill office was constitutional, saying the government "demonstrated a compelling need to conduct the search" in the ongoing public corruption probe.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in an anxiously awaited 28-page opinion, said politicians were not above the law, and he rejected arguments from the Louisiana Democrat that the search violated the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause, which protects speech and documents related to legislative activity.

"Congressman Jefferson's interpretation of the Speech or Debate privilege would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime," Hogan wrote, rejecting the request to return the seized materials.

Since March 2005, the FBI has been investigating allegations that Jefferson took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his congressional influence to promote high-tech business ventures in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

In a sometimes scolding tone, Judge Hogan wrote that the warrant had not violated Mr. Jefferson's rights against unreasonable search and seizure, nor did it step on constitutional principles. "The facts and questions of law here are indeed unprecedented," the judge wrote. "It is well established, however, that a member of Congress is generally bound to the operation of the criminal laws as are ordinary persons."

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