WASHINGTON — The FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided U.S. Rep. William Jefferson‘s office last year and viewed legislative documents in a corruption investigation, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The court ordered the Justice Department to return any legislative documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat’s office on Capitol Hill. The court did not order the return of all the documents seized in the raid and did not say whether prosecutors could use any of the records against Jefferson in their bribery case.
Jefferson argued that the first-of-its-kind raid trampled congressional independence. The Constitution prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement powers to interfere with the lawmaking process. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker’s documents.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected that claim. The court held that, while the search itself was constitutional, FBI agents crossed the line when they viewed every record in the office without giving Jefferson the chance to argue that some documents involved legislative business.
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