No one wants to have FBI agents pawing through lawmakers' files. Prosecutors and agents need to exhaust other avenues of obtaining evidence before doing so. If a search is required, they must take care not to trample on lawmakers' privileged activities.They still call for the Justice Department to have consulted with House leadership before conducting the search. Perhaps the Justice Department didn't have much faith in the leaders' ability to keep a secret.
It's not yet possible to make determinations about whether these principles were followed in the apparently unprecedented search of Mr. Jefferson's office. But the material for which agents searched had been under subpoena for eight months; Mr. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, resisted complying. Under those circumstances, seeking judicial approval for a search warrant is more reasonable. And while the "Saturday night raid," as Mr. Hastert called it, sounds melodramatic, it's less disruptive than having FBI agents in the House during normal business hours.
Mr. Jefferson was, according to the search warrant affidavit, caught with cold, hard cash: Agents videotaped him taking $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor working undercover and then found $90,000 of it in his freezer. This was no fishing expedition.
Moreover, the affidavit outlines precautions prosecutors took to minimize intrusion on politically sensitive material. A team of agents not previously involved in the case were to go through records to find those listed in the warrant; then, a "filter team" of two lawyers and an FBI agent would examine the documents "to determine if they may fall within the purview of the Speech or Debate Clause privilege." If so, those would be set aside for court review before being shared with prosecutors on the case.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The Washington Post thinks that the hullabaloo over the FBI search of Congressman Jefferson's office is way overblown.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 7:04 AM