By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006
FBI agents who raided the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) last month threatened to pick the lock on the door after the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief asked them to hold off until a congressional lawyer showed up, according to a document filed in U.S. District Court.
Shortly after that, the FBI agents were let in.
The confrontation with Acting Chief Christopher M. McGaffin was cited in a brief filed by the Office of General Counsel for the House of Representatives as one of irregularities that made the search unconstitutional. Jefferson, the target of a federal bribery probe, has denied wrongdoing.
"The execution of the warrant poses a grave threat to the separation of powers principle that is the very foundation of our government's structure," the motion said.
The motion, which recommends new protocols for congressional search warrants, suggested that the House counsel and Jefferson could have been present during the search to ensure legislative documents protected by the Speech or Debate Clause were not seized.
The filing helped set the stage for a showdown with the Justice Department. A hearing is set for June 16 before U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan.
The court document said that FBI agents on May 20 called the acting chief at home at 5:15 p.m., and asked "without telling him why" that he come down to the Rayburn House Office Building.
Once McGaffin arrived, the documents said, agents showed him a search warrant for Jefferson's office in the Rayburn building and "demanded access." McGaffin called House General Counsel Geraldine R. Gennet and asked the FBI to wait until she arrived.
But the FBI "threatened to pick the office door lock if not given immediate entry." The FBI ended up searching the office from 7:15 p.m. until 1 p.m. the next day.
A Justice Department official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said last night that the suggestion that "a target of a criminal investigation be informed before a search takes place is a nonstarter. That clearly places a congressman above the law."