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Federal appeals court rules FBI violated constitution in congressional office raid

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled [PDF text] Friday that the FBI's conduct during an 18-hour raid on the congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile; JURIST news archive] was unconstitutional, finding that the "compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant" violated the Speech or Debate Clause [text] because the FBI searched through privilege materials without giving Jefferson an opportunity to review the materials. The court overturned a lower court ruling [JURIST report] and ordered the return of legislative documents, which the court determined to be privileged, but refused Jefferson's request for the return of non-privileged documents because Jefferson has not demonstrated that the "operations of his office have been disrupted as a result of not having the original versions of non-privileged documents." The court also barred the FBI agents who executed the search from disclosing the privileged or "political sensitive and non-responsive items." Jefferson's arguments [JURIST report] were supported by amicus briefs submitted by former Reps. Tom Foley (D-WA) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

In June, Jefferson pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to charges [DOJ press release] under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials], including bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Jefferson is accused of accepting approximately $500,000 in bribes from numerous companies in the US and Africa and faces a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. Jefferson's trial is scheduled to begin on January 16, 2008. Last January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to bribery charges for his role in the scheme. AP has more.

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