May 23, 2006

Congress leaders denounce FBI office raid

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of both parties on Capitol
Hill accused the FBI on Tuesday of overstepping constitutional
boundaries designed to protect Congress when it raided a
Democratic lawmaker's office over the weekend.

The Justice Department's bribery investigation of Louisiana
Rep. William Jefferson has turned up $90,000 in his freezer and
won guilty pleas from two associates, but Republicans and
Democrats alike said investigators went too far when they
ignored long-standing precedent and executed a search warrant
on his office on Capitol Hill.

"I clearly have serious concerns about what happened and
whether people at the Justice Department have looked at the
Constitution lately," said House Majority Leader John Boehner.

"I've got to believe that at the end of the day it's going
to end up across the street at the Supreme Court," the Ohio
Republican added.

The House's No. 2 Democrat, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, said
it was another example of the Bush administration's disregard
for limits on its power.

"No member is above the law, but the institution has a
right to protect itself against the executive department going
into our offices," Hoyer said.

He and others were careful to say the Justice Department
should investigate wrongdoing by members of Congress.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Justice
Department was discussing ways to resolve the concerns with
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who criticized the raid on

Jefferson's colleagues did not criticize the FBI when it
raided his homes in New Orleans and Washington last August,
pursuing allegations he took bribes to promote a Kentucky
company's Internet technology to West Africa.

But many said the raid on his Capitol Hill office violated
the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed concern
about the search and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott said his
Rules Committee was looking into the situation.

"There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything,"
Lott said. "We don't want a situation where the FBI just shows
up at will and starts rummaging around here."


Jefferson, who has maintained his innocence, is one of
several lawmakers facing criminal probes by the Justice
Department in at least three corruption scandals.

Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham
is serving more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4
million in bribes, and four former congressional staffers have
pleaded guilty to corruption charges in separate cases.

One of those staffers said Jefferson demanded bribes to
help Kentucky-based iGate Inc. sell Internet equipment to West
African countries, an account backed up by iGate's president in
a guilty plea earlier this month.

Hoyer said the search raised questions about whether the
Justice Department was treating Democratic suspects differently
from Republicans.

Gonzales said the Justice Department authorized the raid
because Jefferson did not voluntarily hand over requested

"We have before been able ... (in other investigations) to
reach an agreement to receive the evidence that we need to
prosecute wrongdoing through a subpoena," Gonzales told a news
conference. "And for a variety of reasons, that could not occur

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Caren Bohan)