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Law needed to limit FBI raids: Sensenbrenner

May 30, 2006

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – House Judiciary Chairman James
Sensenbrenner said on Tuesday he plans to draft legislation
that would protect congressional material during searches by
government investigators.

Sensenbrenner also said he wanted to call Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify
about their justification for the unprecedented raid on the
office of Rep. William Jefferson, the target of a bribery
investigation.

Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said at a hearing on
the raid that his bill could avoid a repeat of last week’s
standoff between congressional leaders and the Bush
administration after the search of Jefferson’s Capitol Hill
office.

“We want to make sure that when the next congressman is
investigated for illegal activity that the procedure done by
the Justice Department is right,” Sensenbrenner said.

The FBI obtained a court warrant before searching the
office of Jefferson, a Louisiana Democratic, but lawmakers from
both parties said the raid violated constitutional protections
designed to shield lawmakers from executive-branch harassment.

The papers and computer hard drive seized in the raid have
been placed under seal for 45 days as Congress and the Justice
Department try to resolve their dispute.

Sensenbrenner scheduled Tuesday’s hearing to discuss the
raid even though Congress is out of session for the week. He
said he plans to call Gonzales and Mueller to testify at a
second hearing.

Several legal experts told the Judiciary Committee the FBI
had taken a heavy-handed approach during the raid.

In a court filing, the Justice Department said it had set
up a “rigorous set of search procedures” to prevent anyone
actually involved in the prosecution from seeing any documents
that have nothing to do with the case.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley
said Sensenbrenner should look for inspiration to the Privacy
Protection Act of 1980, which says that journalists don’t have
to hand over notes and other work materials to law enforcers.

Sensenbrenner said he was considering such an approach.

“I think this law will help the Justice Department get it
right next time because they didn’t get it right this time,” he
said.

Jefferson is being investigated for his involvement in an
African technology venture. The FBI says it videotaped him
accepting $100,000 in bribe money, most of which later turned
up in his freezer.

A businessman has pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson with
$400,000 in cash for his help, while a former congressional
aide was sentenced to eight years in prison on Friday for his
role in the scheme.

In a court filing, an FBI agent said Jefferson had tried to
conceal documents during a raid on his New Orleans house last
summer.

Jefferson has maintained his innocence and refused to give
up his seat or his committee assignments.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles)


Source: reuters



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