By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) testified yesterday that an FBI agent cursed at him and told him that "this is going to be the worst day of your life," just before agents searched his Louisiana home as part of the investigation that led to corruption charges against him.
At one point during the tense interview at his house in August 2005, Jefferson said, an FBI agent followed him to the bathroom. "I told him, 'Are you going to the bathroom with me?' " Jefferson said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. "He said, 'Yes.' "
Minutes later, another agent informed Jefferson that $100,000 he had accepted from a government informant -- allegedly used to bribe the vice president of Nigeria -- had been supplied by the FBI. Leaning forward, the agent yelled, "Where is my [expletive] money?" Jefferson testified.
"I'm not going to answer any more questions," the congressman said he told the agents. "I'm done talking to you."
Jefferson's testimony was his most extensive public comment on the case since his arraignment last year on charges that he used his congressional office and staff to enrich himself and his family. It came at a hearing to determine whether what he said and what was seized during the raid on his New Orleans home can be used in his trial.
Jefferson's lawyers argued that the FBI agents bullied their client and made him feel that he was being detained, so they should have read him his Miranda rights. Since they did not, everything Jefferson told the agents during the two-hour interview should be suppressed, the lawyers told a judge. The nearly 1,400 documents seized should also be thrown out because the agents exceeded the terms of their search warrant, the lawyers said.
Prosecutors said the statements should be admitted into evidence because Jefferson was never in custody and agreed to be questioned by the agents, who were courteous and respectful. Jefferson acknowledged yesterday during cross-examination that he invited the agents into his home. Prosecutors said that evidence taken in the search was covered by the warrant and should be allowed, as well. A judge has not yet ruled on the dispute.
Jefferson, 60, a former co-chairman of the congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade, faces a 16-count indictment that includes allegations that he solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for himself and his family, falsely reported trips to Africa as official business and sought to bribe Atiku Abubakar, then the Nigerian vice president.
It is unclear what effect Jefferson's statements might have if they are used at his trial, scheduled to start Feb. 25. Prosecutors have said he made several potentially incriminating remarks, questioning how his reputation could survive and asking that the search warrant affidavit be permanently sealed to keep the information from being made public.
Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.