Saturday, August 04, 2007

Freezer Bill wins a partial victory

From The Washington Post:

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that FBI agents violated the Constitution during their search of Rep. William J. Jefferson's Capitol Hill office last year, and ordered the agency to return all privileged materials.

In a 3 to 0 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit did not block future FBI searches of congressional offices. But it ruled that FBI agents went too far during the May 2006 search when they viewed paper documents before giving the Louisiana Democrat an opportunity to say whether the material was connected to legislative activity and thus protected under the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause.

At the same time, the court stopped short of ordering the return of all documents seized in the raid. "Although the search of Congressman's Jefferson's paper files violated the Speech or Debate Clause, his argument does not support granting the relief that he seeks, namely the return of all seized documents . . . whether privileged or not," the court wrote.

The ruling was hailed by Robert P. Trout, Jefferson's attorney. "As we urged, the court ruled that the Congressman had an absolute right to review his records first and shield privileged legislative material from review by the executive branch," Trout said in a statement. "Today's opinion underscores the fact the Department of Justice is required to follow the law, and it is bound to abide by the Constitution."

The impact of the ruling on Jefferson's criminal case was not immediately clear. The government previously contended that it did not use any privileged documents in preparing a 16-count indictment that charged Jefferson, 60, with offering and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in the United States and several West African nations.

Next to the New Orleans Police Department the most corrupt official body in the United States is the Congress. Anything that shields congressmen from will be exploited to aid legislators in their criminal activities. However it is essential to protect the constitutional separation of powers.

I don't think any of this is going to help "Freezer" Bill Jefferson. They did find the bribe money in his home, after all. And some of his former partners in crime have already plead guilty after turning states evidence.

Cartoon courtesy of Cox & Forkum.