Leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill accused the FBI on Tuesday of overstepping constitutional boundaries designed to protect Congress when it raided a Democratic lawmaker’s office over the weekend.
The Justice Department’s bribery investigation of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson has turned up $90,000 in his freezer and won guilty pleas from two associates, but Republicans and Democrats alike said investigators went too far when they ignored long-standing precedent and executed a search warrant on his office on Capitol Hill.
“I clearly have serious concerns about what happened and whether people at the Justice Department have looked at the Constitution lately,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner.
“I’ve got to believe that at the end of the day it’s going to end up across the street at the Supreme Court,” the Ohio Republican added.
The House’s No. 2 Democrat, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, said it was another example of the Bush administration’s disregard for limits on its power.
“No member is above the law, but the institution has a right to protect itself against the executive department going into our offices,” Hoyer said.
He and others were careful to say the Justice Department should investigate wrongdoing by members of Congress.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Justice Department was discussing ways to resolve the concerns with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who criticized the raid on Monday.
Jefferson’s colleagues did not criticize the FBI when it raided his homes in New Orleans and Washington last August, pursuing allegations he took bribes to promote a Kentucky company’s Internet technology to West Africa.
But many said the raid on his Capitol Hill office violated the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed concern about the search and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott said his Rules Committee was looking into the situation.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything,” Lott said. “We don’t want a situation where the FBI just shows up at will and starts rummaging around here.”
Jefferson, who has maintained his innocence, is one of several lawmakers facing criminal probes by the Justice Department in at least three corruption scandals.
Former California Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham is serving more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes, and four former congressional staffers have pleaded guilty to corruption charges in separate cases.
One of those staffers said Jefferson demanded bribes to help Kentucky-based iGate Inc. sell Internet equipment to West African countries, an account backed up by iGate’s president in a guilty plea earlier this month.
Hoyer said the search raised questions about whether the Justice Department was treating Democratic suspects differently from Republicans.
Gonzales said the Justice Department authorized the raid because Jefferson did not voluntarily hand over requested evidence.
“We have before been able … (in other investigations) to reach an agreement to receive the evidence that we need to prosecute wrongdoing through a subpoena,” Gonzales told a news conference. “And for a variety of reasons, that could not occur here.”
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Caren Bohan)
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