House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Sunday he may challenge a judge’s order allowing FBI agents to examine documents seized at a Louisiana congressman’s Capitol Hill office in a bribery probe.
Hastert said he believed Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was “in big trouble” and that the House would not be joining in support of Jefferson himself. But he said the House separately might seek to make clear its position that the Justice Department cannot randomly and wantonly search lawmakers’ offices.
“The gentleman from Louisiana is in big trouble, as far as I’m concerned. And we’re not trying to protect him,” said Hastert, R-Ill.
“But there has to be a procedure for the Justice Department to come in and start just searching any congressman’s office,” he said. “We may take a fine line depending on how the negotiations are. There is a constitutional division there that we have to protect.”
Last week, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan denied Jefferson’s request to delay the investigation while the congressman appeals the judge’s earlier ruling that the office search was legal.
As a result of Hogan’s ruling, Jefferson is seeking to bar a “filter team” of FBI agents from reviewing the seized documents pending an appeal. The filter team, which is unconnected to the prosecution team, would review records to determine if they were responsive to the items listed in a court warrant authorizing the search.
Investigators have been looking into whether the congressman promoted the sale of telecommunications equipment and services in exchange for stock and cash. Jefferson has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
On Sunday, Hastert said FBI agents should be able to search for documents on any criminal aspect, but that they do not have a right to “take all your records,” such as confidential tax forms.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has directed that any review of the documents by the filter team not begin until Thursday to give judges time to consider Jefferson’s call for a delay.
Hastert appeared on Fox News Sunday.
© 2006 The Associated Press