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Return of Jefferson Files Is Sought

Jefferson's case poses a political dilemma for Democratic leaders, who feel compelled to join in protesting the legality of the raid but who also are deeply troubled by the FBI's evidence against Jefferson and want to distance themselves as much as possible. The Democrats have sought to portray the Republicans as the party of corruption, but now the Democrats are being tainted by the Jefferson political corruption investigation.

Democrats yesterday released Pelosi's letter to Jefferson asking him to step down from the Ways and Means Committee "in the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus." In rejecting her request, Jefferson noted that he has served with members "who have been indicted, tried and won their cases, and who were never asked to step aside from their committee assignments during those processes."

The Jefferson case has revealed a more forceful side to Pelosi and has drawn protests from some of Jefferson's colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, for what they regard as harsh treatment, given that Jefferson has not been indicted.

"I don't think there's any precedent for it," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.).

Voicing a contrary view, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) issued a statement yesterday saying, "I think it's very important that Congress be treated no differently than the average citizen when it comes to criminal matters."

An 83-page affidavit unsealed Sunday included allegations that the FBI had videotaped Jefferson last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents then found $90,000 of that cash stuffed inside a freezer in his D.C. apartment.

Two people -- Brett Pfeffer and Vernon L. Jackson -- have pleaded guilty to bribing the congressman to promote iGate Inc., a Louisville-based company that was marketing Internet and cable television technology in Africa. Pfeffer worked for Lori Mody, a Northern Virginia woman who invested $3.5 million in the company. IGate is owned by Jackson.

Justice officials have declined to specify publicly what steps had been taken previously to attempt to force Jefferson to turn over the records held in his House office. A subpoena was issued in August, around the same time that investigators searched Jefferson's New Orleans home and D.C. apartment.

But Jefferson and his attorneys resisted the subpoena for materials from his office, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, according to sources familiar with the case. In an attempt to break the logjam, prosecutors filed a sealed motion in federal court in Alexandria against Jefferson's chief of staff, as keeper of the records, who is being represented by the House counsel's office, said a Justice official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled in favor of the government on some items and in favor of Jefferson on others but said in a footnote to his sealed ruling that the government was free to pursue a criminal search warrant to obtain the records, according to numerous law enforcement sources.

That notation opened the door for the government to apply for and obtain a search warrant from Hogan, even while Jefferson was appealing Ellis's order, several officials said.

Robert P. Trout, Jefferson's attorney, disputed the government's assertion that it had exhausted all other reasonable methods to obtain these records in a timely manner, pointing to his motion that stated "there were several less intrusive options available to the government."

Staff writers Dan Eggen and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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