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US appeals court blocks FBI review of material seized from congressional office

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] granted an administrative injunction Wednesday in the case of US Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official website], preventing FBI review of documents seized from Jefferson's congressional offices until after the court rules on the merits of Jefferson's appeal. Jefferson is appealing a district court ruling finding the search constitutional [JURIST report; PDF opinion], and has argued that documents recovered during the 18-hour search [JURIST report] are 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.

Jefferson has not been charged, and has denied accusations that he took bribes from a Kentucky telecommunications company in exchange for brokering a deal with the government of 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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