House Leaders Question FBI Search

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 23, 2006; 5:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- The FBI's weekend search of the House office of a Louisiana Democrat under investigation for bribery may have overstepped constitutional boundaries, House leaders said as the congressman under investigation pledged to stay in office.

House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio told reporters Tuesday that the Congress will somehow speak to "this issue of the Justice Department's invasion of the legislative branch. In what form, I don't know."

"I've got to believe at the end of the day it's going to end up across the street at the Supreme Court," Boehner said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the Justice Department had never before crossed a line that separates Congress from the executive branch by searching a congressional office while investigating a member of Congress.

Justice Department officials, meanwhile, said Tuesday the decision to search Rep. William Jefferson's office was based in part on Jefferson's refusal to comply with a subpoena for documents that was issued last summer. Jefferson reported the subpoena to the House of Representatives on Sept. 15.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he understood the congressional concerns about the search and said he was working with lawmakers as to how to handle the investigation.

"We're in discussion privately about what can be done to alleviate the concerns," Gonzales said at a Justice Department news conference. "I ... and the department have a great deal of respect for the Congress as a coequal branch of government ... and obviously are sensitive to their concerns. We are working to address those concerns. We have discussions with the House. Those began last night."

Gonzales said his department has "an obligation to the American people to pursue wrongdoing where it exists." At the same time, he said, "We want to continue to work with Congress to alleviate concerns."

Jefferson has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, but two of his associates have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said earlier, "We are hoping that there's a way to balance the constitutional concerns of the House of Representatives with the law enforcement obligations of the executive branch."

Snow also said the Justice Department executed search warrants and didn't "raid" the office. "I think using the term raid makes it sound a little like the cavalry is storming into the halls of Congress," he said.

The search warrant was issued by a federal district judge, based on an affidavit from FBI investigators outlining some of the evidence that has accumulated in the case, including video tape of Rep. William Jefferson accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant, who agreed to have her conversations with the congressman taped.

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