Monday, May 22, 2006

The War of the Branches

There is an inherent tenstion between the branches of government. I believe it is seen most often and most clearly between the Executive and the Judicial, but I don't doubt that the Judiciary feels it frequently as well.

In the handling of the Jefferson case - and the other criminal investigations into sitting Members of Congress - we're starting to see that tension rise. Now there is word that the FBI gave at best minimal notification to the House of Representatives before working with the Capitol Police to conduct a search that Roll Call (subscription required) reports is unprecedented: the raid of a Congressional office:

FBI Raid Angers Some on Hill; Feds Probe Additional Jefferson “Schemes”
Sunday, May 21; 5:17 pm
By John Bresnahan,
Roll Call Staffs

Saturday night’s FBI raid on the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) surprised and angered House officials, who were not told that the Rayburn House Office Building search was to take place until one hour beforehand, offering the latest sign that federal prosecutors are using increasingly aggressive tactics in their pursuit of allegedly corrupt lawmakers.
Documents filed in support of the search show that the Justice Department is assembling a wide-ranging case against the veteran Democratic lawmaker. At this time, Jefferson is being investigated for bribery, wire fraud, bribery of a foreign official and conspiracy to bribe foreign officials, according to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent in support of the search warrant.

But the Justice Department and FBI agents are also looking at “at least seven other schemes in which Congressman Jefferson sought things of value” in return for official acts, the affidavit states. That suggests that additional avenues for prosecuting Jefferson could be revealed soon.

The FBI has two confidential witnesses who are offering testimony against Jefferson, as well as undercover audio and videotapes of him allegedly asking for and receiving bribes worth potentially millions of dollars in exchange for his help in putting together African telecommunications deals for U.S. firms, according to the affidavit.

On one videotape, the FBI filmed Jefferson allegedly receiving $100,000 in cash from one of their cooperating witnesses. Most of the money was later recovered in a raid of Jefferson’s home.

Jefferson and his family members allegedly received payments from both sides of the telecom deals, with money coming from the American and Nigerian firms through companies controlled by the Jeffersons, his two brothers and son-in-law, according to the FBI affidavit.

This is believed to be the first-ever FBI raid on a Congressional office. Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia authorized the search on Thursday night, but it was not conducted until Saturday.

...The FBI called the chief of the Capitol Police on Saturday and asked him to go to Rayburn but would not tell him for what purpose his presence was sought, according to Congressional officials, and it is unclear whether the Speaker’s office was notified of the raid either.

“This is unbelievable,” said one Congressional leadership aide, who requested anonymity. “They don’t even tell us that the FBI is coming anymore. It’s really gotten out of hand.”

The FBI affidavit states that agents adopted “special procedures” to assure that “potentially politically sensitive, non-responsive items in the Office” would not be seized. The procedures included using FBI agents “who have no substantive role” in the investigation, referred to as “non-case agents.”

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