I didn't study the arguments, and had just guessed Jefferson's constitutional arguments were specious at best. Just the desperate pleadings of a criminal caught in the act, but apparently there were sufficient constitutional protections to prompt a federal appeals court to rule today that the FBI violated the Constitution when they entered Jefferson's office and read and seized documents.
This seems to be the linchpin:
"The review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive" and violated the Constitution, the court wrote. "The Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged."
Since they read and seized documents that did not pertain directly to their investigation of criminal wrongdoing, they crossed an important line.
Officials have said they took extraordinary steps, including using an FBI "filter team" not involved in the case to review the congressional documents. Government attorneys said the Constitution was not intended to shield lawmakers from prosecution for political corruption.
The court was not convinced. It said the Constitution insists that lawmakers must be free from any intrusion into their congressional duties. Such intrusion, even by a filter team, "may therefore chill the exchange of views with respect to legislative activity," the court held.
Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows:
The case has cut across political party lines. Former House Speakers Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and Thomas Foley, a Democrat, filed legal documents opposing the raid, along with former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, a Republican.
Conservative groups Judicial Watch and the Washington Legal Foundation were joined by the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in supporting the legality of the raid.
Following his indictment, Jefferson's supporters accused the Bush administration of targeting black Democrats to shift attention from the legal troubles of Republican congressmen.
It's difficult to argue that a guy caught with $90,000 in cold cash stuffed in his freezer (along with the other evidence of wrongdoing they claim to have against Jefferson) is innocent. Nonetheless, Jefferson has indeed proclaimed exactly that.
But if the FBI truly believes, as they have stated, that they already had adequate evidence of Jefferson's wrongdoing before they seized the documents, it does beg the question as to why they crossed this line and took these kind of desperate measures. It adds weight to Jefferson's argument that he was being unfairly targeted. At this point in the Justice Department's history, with a huge controversy swirling around AG Gonzales, that's not a good thing for the executive branch.
You'd think Alberto Gonzales would know better. The fact that he doesn't know better -- or knows better and doesn't care -- only supports the argument that the Department of Justice, with respect to their upholding of the Constitution, may be more corrupt than some of the criminals they are prosecuting.
It's clear from the US Attorney congressional hearings that the DoJ has become severely politicized. This court decision certainly supports that argument.
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