Searches Highlight FBI Corruption Probes
Tuesday, May 23, 2006; 4:13 AM
WASHINGTON -- FBI agents bearing search warrants made rare appearances this month at the CIA and on Capitol Hill, high-profile raids that showcase a heightened effort to go after public corruption.
The head of the FBI's criminal division was reluctant to say much about those searches. "We go where the evidence leads us," said James W. "Chip" Burrus Jr.
But Burrus acknowledged in an interview Monday that corruption investigators "have had a run of good luck lately."
It is hard to know whether there is more or less public corruption afoot in the country now than in the past. "It's always hard to measure the part of the iceberg that's under the water," said St. John's University law professor John Barrett, a former prosecutor.
But it is clear that investigators are spending more time looking for corruption. More than 1,000 officials, military personnel and police officers have been convicted over two years, with a 25 percent increase from 2004 to 2005, the FBI said.
There are more than 2,200 open investigations at the federal, state and local level, and more than 600 agents work public corruption cases, about a third of all agents dedicated to white-collar crime, Burrus said. That number has increased, he said, despite the bureau's realignment since the Sept. 11 attacks to focus on counterterrorism investigations.
The recent searches occurred in independent bribery investigations that implicate members of Congress, Republican and Democrat.
The raid on Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's office over the weekend apparently was the first time FBI agents had ventured onto Capitol Hill armed with a search warrant.
Agents were accompanied by CIA minders when they scoured the Langley, Va., office of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo on May 12. Foggo has stepped down as the intelligence agency's executive director, amid allegations that link him to a bribery investigation that already has sent former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison.
The bureau's stepped-up effort has come partly as a result of the inactivity of congressional ethics committees, even in the face of serious bribery allegations. The FBI also has been relatively shielded from political considerations that have slowed pursuit of corruption in past administrations, said ethics watchdogs across the political spectrum.
"I think the Clinton administration would have been too scared to go after Tom DeLay, even though they should have, because they had a Republican-controlled Congress," said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It seems clear that Justice is taking a more aggressive approach."
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which has tussled over ethics with the Bush and Clinton administrations, called the increase in public corruption cases notable. "It looks to me like appointees are less concerned about the political ramifications of their investigations," Fitton said.