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Federal appeals court hears Jefferson challenge of FBI congressional office raid

[JURIST] Lawyers for US Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile; JURIST news archive] urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn a lower court ruling [JURIST report] that the FBI's 18-hour raid on Jefferson's congressional offices was legal. Jefferson is also seeking a court order for the return of materials seized from his office [JURIST report] in May 2006 by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as a part of an investigation into bribery allegations. Jefferson's lawyers argued that the search violated legislative privilege defined in the US Constitution's co-called Speech or Debate Clause [text] because the FBI searched through privileged materials without giving Jefferson an opportunity to review the materials. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) made similar arguments following the raid [JURIST report], and former Representatives Tom Foley (D-WA) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA) echoed those views in an amicus brief. The DOJ has argued that extra care was taken to ensure that legislative documents unrelated to the bribery investigation were protected and that excluding all evidence seized during the raid would be unnecessary.

Last January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to bribery charges for his role in the scheme. Last May, businessman Vernon L. Jackson pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson [press release; WP report] and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison for paying more than $400,000 in bribes in exchange for Jefferson's influence in securing telecommunication contracts in West Africa. AP has more. MSNBC has additional coverage.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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