Speech or Debate Clause Protecting Members of Congress Does Not Apply…
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in support of a lower court ruling stating that a FBI search of Rep. William Jefferson’s congressional office was constitutional. The FBI searched Rep. Jefferson’s office in Washington, D.C. on May 10, 2006 during the course of its investigation into a bribery scandal involving Jefferson and high tech business deals in Nigeria.
Judicial Watch argues in its brief, filed on April 6, that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects members of Congress from “intimidation by the executive and accountability before a possible hostile judiciary,” does not make the search of Jefferson’s office unconstitutional. The Speech or Debate Clause, the brief states, only protects members of Congress conducting legislative actions.
“Congressman Jefferson has failed to demonstrate that the actions under scrutiny by federal law enforcement officials and the records sought by the search warrant fall within the ‘legitimate legislative sphere.’ Consequently, the privileges of the Speech or Debate Clause do not apply here…,” Judicial Watch noted in its brief. “All of the actions allegedly taken by Congressman Jefferson were allegedly for the sole purpose of using his status as a U.S. Congressman to solidify a business venture in which he stood to make millions of dollars. Such actions are anything but official.”
Jefferson is alleged to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to help broker high-tech business deals in Nigeria. According to press reports, he was also caught on tape discussing the deals, while an FBI search of his home uncovered $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer. The FBI later searched Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building for documents pertaining to the alleged bribery deals.
“The Speech or Debate Clause was not intended to allow members of Congress to conceal corrupt and criminal activity,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Taking a bribe is not part of the legitimate legislative process. The search of Jefferson’s office is in compliance with constitutional law, and neither Representative Jefferson, nor any other member of Congress, is above that law.”
To review Judicial Watch’s amicus curiae brief, please visit JW’s Internet site, www.judicialwatch.org