Federal judge denies request to halt review of documents seized in congressional raid

[JURIST] A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by US Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official website] to stay a previous order [PDF text] authorizing the FBI to review documents seized from Jefferson's congressional offices [JURIST report]. Jefferson argued that the documents should remain untouched pending the appeal of last week's ruling that the search was constitutional [JURIST report]. In his opinion [PDF text], Chief Judge Thomas said:

Congressman Jefferson has not made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his appeal. Second, Congressman Jefferson has not demonstrated that he would be irreparably harmed absent a stay. The seized materials will be reviewed by an [FBI] filter team [independent from the prosecution], and Congressman Jefferson will have a full opportunity to raise claims of privilege and have them resolved by the Court before any member of the prosecution team is given access to the materials. Third, a stay would harm the other party of the litigation, in that the Government's ongoing investigation would be prejudiced by the delay. Similarly, issuing a stay would harm the public's interest in a prompt and final outcome of the Government's investigation of serious crimes involving a sitting United States Congressman running for reelection in November.
In support of his denied motion to return the documents, Jefferson argued that the documents were protected under the Speech or Debate Clause [text] of the US Constitution, and that the search violated the separation of powers principle and his Fourth Amendment rights.

The FBI raid was part of an investigation connected to a bribery scheme involving a Kentucky telecommunications firm that was granted contracts in Nigeria. The search sparked bipartisan criticism from the House of Representatives, including an accusation from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) that the DOJ crossed the line of separation of powers [JURIST report]. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and FBI Director Robert Mueller were among a host of government officials who said they would resign [JURIST report] if forced to hand back information gathered during the search, causing President Bush to order the documents to be sealed for 45 days [JURIST report] until the matter could be resolved. AP has more.


 

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