Jefferson challenges legality of FBI raid

Rep. William Jefferson says the FBI crossed the line when it raided his congressional office and wants a federal appeals court to order the return of documents.

Jefferson, D-La., says the raid last year was unconstitutional because it trampled on congressional independence. His lawyers are scheduled to argue that point Tuesday before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

His attorneys said nearly 19,000 pages of documents and electronic files seized by prosecutors and the FBI are covered by Congress' separation of powers privilege to shield certain legislative material from executive review.

The Justice Department countered that, if Jefferson had his way, targets of congressional bribery investigations could pick and choose what evidence to turn over to the FBI.

"In other words, the target of the search would be entitled to define the scope of the search," government attorneys said in court documents.

The raid was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman's Louisiana home.

"Because this case involves the first time in United States history that a search warrant has been executed on a congressional office, it is vital that the remedy imposed be sufficiently stringent to deter future searches that exceed constitutional boundaries," Jefferson's team wrote.

A federal judge authorized the unprecedented 18-hour search last year, but the bulk of the investigation has essentially been on hold since last summer because of the legal fight.