The Justice Department on Thursday opposed further delays in the bribery investigation of Rep. William Jefferson, saying the agency should be allowed to review documents seized in a search of the congressman’s office.

On Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan rejected requests from Jefferson and fellow lawmakers seeking the return of the material from the May raid on Capitol Hill. Jefferson, D-La., is now seeking to delay the judge’s ruling while he appeals.

Hogan dismissed arguments by Jefferson and a bipartisan group of House leaders that the raid violated the Constitution’s protections against intimidation of elected officials.

At issue is whether a review of the seized documents can begin by an FBI “filter team” unconnected to the prosecution team looking into the bribery allegations. Jefferson says no one in the executive branch of government should examine the documents until the question of returning the material to Jefferson is resolved on appeal.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has directed that any review of documents by the filter team not begin for two weeks to allow Hogan to consider Jefferson’s arguments for a delay pending an appeal.

In a 14-page court filing, the department said the public has a substantial stake in knowing promptly whether Jefferson accepted bribes and paid bribes to high-ranking foreign officials.

For 16 months, investigators have been looking into whether the congressman promoted the sale of telecommunications equipment and services in exchange for stock and cash.

Even a swift review of the case by an appeals court would likely take months to resolve, the department said.

© 2006 The Associated Press