FBI Raid on Congressman’s Office Leads to Court

An FBI raid on the office of Congressman William Jefferson led to a court case. The FBI was investigating allegation of bribery. The court held that some items should be returned to the Congressman.

A federal appeals court has ruled on the dispute over the constitutionality of the FBI "raid" of the office Congressman William J. Jefferson.

In United States of America v. Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2113, Washington, D.C. 20515, C.A.D.C. No. 06-3105, 8/3/07, the court issued a partial victory for both sides.

Readers probably recall that the FBI executed a search warrant in the Congressman’s office on Capitol Hill in connection with an investigation of allegations of bribery. (He has since been indicted.) Rep. Jefferson argued the search was unconstitutional and asked the district court to order the return of all of the seized materials. The President immediately issued an order to the Attorney General to put the materials under seal temporarily until the court could rule on the matter. (p. 5)

The district court denied the congressman’s motion, finding that the execution of the search warrant "did not impermissibly interfere with Congressman Jefferson’s legislative activities…" and that the warrant applied only to items "that were outside of the ‘legitimate legislative sphere…’" (pp. 5-6)

The appeals court has now ruled that any materials found by the district court to be privileged under the Clause should be returned to the Congressman: "We hold that the compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant…violated the Speech or Debate Clause and that the Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged under the Clause." (Opinion p. 3)

However, the appeals court did not agree with the Congressman’s contention that all original documents seized in the raid must be returned to him as he had argued in his motion. The decision states, "We do not, however, hold…that the operations of his office have been disrupted as a result of not having the original versions of the non-privileged documents." (pp. 3-4)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.