May 18th, 2009
11:05 AM ET
14 years ago

High court declines to step into Jefferson case

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The U.S. Supreme Court is refusing to hear former congressman William Jefferson's appeal."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Supreme Court refused Monday to settle an ongoing dispute over the prosecution of former congressman William Jefferson on corruption charges.

The justices' denial of the onetime lawmaker's appeal means his criminal corruption trial is likely to proceed to trial later this month.

The Louisiana Democrat claims he was the victim of an overly aggressive FBI raid of his Capitol Hill offices in May 2006. He was indicted 13 months later on public corruption charges.

At issue in the appeal was whether he had constitutional protection as a lawmaker - so that evidence obtained in that search should not have been presented to the grand jury to obtain the indictment.

The Constitution's "speech or debate clause" bars the executive branch from executing a search warrant for non-legislative materials in the office of a member of Congress. A federal appeals court partially backed Jefferson, finding that federal agents had improper "incidental exposure" to protected legislative materials on paper while searching for "unprivileged evidence of criminal activity." But it upheld other parts of the search.

Jefferson - who lost re-election to his seat last fall - said he should have been afforded a chance "to segregate privileged legislative materials and shield them from review" before the search warrant was executed.

The 62-year-old Harvard Law School graduate faces criminal counts of racketeering, bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice. His private homes in Washington and New Orleans were raided in 2005, and FBI agents say they found $90,000 in cash in one of his freezers. Officials say the money was part of a payment in marked bills from an FBI informant, in a transaction that was allegedly captured on video.

Afterward, prosecutors subpoenaed more documents from Jefferson, but they say they received no cooperation from him or his lawyers. A federal judge, after reviewing an affidavit outlining the evidence against Jefferson, then approved a search of the congressman's offices in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The raid began late at night on a weekend and lasted 18 hours. Officials have not detailed exactly what evidence was seized.

At the time, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the move. "We worked very hard over a period of time to get the information, the evidence we felt was important for a criminal investigation," he said in a news conference. "At the end of the day, the decision was made that this was essential to move forward."

Jefferson denies the criminal allegations.

He was re-elected to a ninth term in 2006, while the controversy swirled around him. Democratic leaders later stripped him of all committee assignments.

"I am absolutely innocent of the charges that have been levied against me, and I'm going to fight my heart out to clear my name," he told reporters after his indictment.

There was bipartisan criticism of the search of Jefferson's legislative offices. Then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said the FBI "took the wrong path."

The government warned the Supreme Court in its appeal that if Jefferson prevailed, ongoing and future public corruption probes would be seriously hamstrung. It said those investigations "serve a vital role in protecting the integrity of our democratic government."

The Supreme Court in March 2008 refused to intervene in an appeal from the Justice Department, after a federal judge allowed Jefferson - with court oversight - to review the seized documents and take out those that were privileged.

The current appeal is Jefferson v. U.S. (08-1059).

Filed under: Supreme Court • William Jefferson
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. j

    If he`s guilty, What`s the problem ???? Boot him out --- simple.

    May 18, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  2. Kevin in Ohio

    We can finally hear the truth behind this corrupt politician's stuffing cash in his freezer.

    May 18, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Constitutional protection as a lawmaker?

    Why do these elected officials all seem to think they are above the law?

    May 18, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  4. Mississippi Mike

    I'll settle this: anyone who is hiding $100k in their freezer and has a long paper trail proving him guilty, is guilty. That's pretty obvious.

    May 18, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. Chris, Charleston, SC

    Movin on up!!

    May 18, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  6. Lost in Austin

    Why is this taking so long? Put him in the tank. He should share a cell with Ted Stevens.

    Dirty is dirty. Corruption and greed is the only thing that crosses the aisle these days. Hooray for bipartisanship.

    May 18, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  7. Ted Tartaglia

    Jefferson is just another crooked politician who needs to he held accountable for his actions. The common thread running through both major political parties is the issue of corruption. I think it time for the voters to do some housecleaning.

    May 18, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  8. Advocating Maturity

    I don't think politicians think they are above the law any more than the average citizens who are committing crimes every single day. Very few people handle power well. Even the powerless commit crimes all day long.

    May 18, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. Biff Biffington

    Here is where I agree one thousand percent with Keith Olberman...

    "and if a Democrat breaks the law, they they can go to hell, too!"

    May 18, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. res45

    "Why do these elected officials all seem to think they are above the law?"

    Because most of them apparently are and don't have to play by the same rules as us common people.

    May 18, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. john

    republicans are digging all the dirt....

    Did you see them trying to influence espn by bringing micheal vicky after the broadcast of Obama attending his daughter's game?


    May 18, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  12. Pat F

    The Pride of the Democratic Party!

    May 18, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. Proud Member..Party of No

    Again, there's no news here....just another lying, cheating, corrupt democrat.

    May 18, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. GOPer

    This guy is dirty and I hope he receives jail time.

    May 18, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. dominican mama 4 Obama

    I read about this case a while ago, I thought it was settled. It seems pretty clear cut to me: these politicians think that they are different from the rest of us ( contstitutional protection as a lawmaker ?!?) when it come to them breaking the law. Look, whoever you are, Cheney, Jefferson, Bush, Gonzales: you break the law, you broke it. Why should your title give you "different protection" from the law?

    May 18, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  16. Melissa

    Good. We are all tired of crooked politians getting away with their actions. Time to prosecute.

    May 18, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  17. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Another democrat that refuses to resign when caught dirty. Like Pelosi, Rangel, Dodd and Jackson, Jr., Blago. That is the difference between Repubs and Dems, Repubs resign, Dems blame it on someone else or deny (ala W. J. Clinton).

    May 18, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  18. Claudia in Houson

    Whether it's a Republican or Democrat that breaks the law is not the issue, if there is proof Jefferson broke the law then he should get what's coming to him. We don't need to see another circus like the one Blago put on, and I agree with the Supreme Court.

    May 18, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  19. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    Corrupt politicians, when caught red handed as Jefferson was, should be ejected from Congress, denied the life time benefits, and spend time in real jail...where they can make friends with "Bubba" and the boys.

    Politicians should be held to same, if not higher, standard as people who do NOT make the laws.

    May 18, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  20. Cali J

    Please don't turn this into partisianship. This guy is way dirty and needs to get what's coming. This is not Repub or Demo issue. This is about our elected officials being criminals. Both sides have bad elements and we need to clean them out as soon as possible. This has been the norm for too long. It's time to be "of the people and for the people."

    May 18, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  21. DaBird

    John, this has nothing to do with Republicans. What is wrong with people when you just see Democrat and Republican. We are Americans and ALL corrupt people should go to jail. The guy has $90,000 in his frig and you some people can't see a corrupt congressman? TERM LIMITS

    May 18, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  22. Melissa

    Gee people, you mean as opposed to the lying cheating Republicans of the Bush administration?

    Did you forget about the fact that the WMD's were imaginary and caused us to enter the new Vietnam? Or how about torturing prisoners?

    People who throw stones shouldn't live in glass houses.

    May 18, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  23. Fitz in Texas

    No doubt there are crooks in both the Republican and Democrat parties, and there is no doubt that the Democrats get first prize on this issue.

    May 18, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  24. Dave

    The jig is up, sir. You're a criminal.

    May 18, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  25. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    It is about time he is tried and not let off on a technicallity. It is too basd he is not required to answer what the $90,000.00 in his freezer was all about.

    May 18, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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