|Federal grand jury subpoenas Jefferson e-mails before searches|
Disclosure of request in House records
Thursday, July 06, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- In another indication that the corruption probe of Rep. William Jefferson remains active, a federal grand jury last week subpoenaed e-mails to and from the New Orleans Democrat sent before the Aug. 3, 2005, search of his Washington and New Orleans homes.
The new subpoena was disclosed in the Congressional Record by the recipient, James Eagan, the chief administrative officer of the House.
The brief mention in the record, the official compilation of congressional activities, doesn't mention Jefferson by name, nor provide specifics on why prosecutors want the e-mails. But two sources familiar with the investigation said the e-mails being requested were either sent to or from the eight-term congressman.
Jefferson 's attorney, Robert Trout, had no immediate comment. The government's lead prosecutor for the Jefferson probe, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, also declined comment.
The disclosure of the subpoena comes as the Justice Department and Jefferson's attorneys continue to await a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan on a challenge to the May 20 search of the congressman's office, the first ever in the history of Congress.
The challenge was mounted jointly by Jefferson and the bipartisan leadership of the House, alleging the Justice Department overreached its authority in the search. The Justice Department argued before Hogan that the raid was necessary because Jefferson had refused to turn over material needed for its probe.
President Bush has ordered the material, which included documents and several computer hard drives, sequestered by the U.S. Solicitor General's office at least through July 9 while attorneys for the Justice Department and House try to reach an agreement.
While the two sides are reported to have made significant progress on procedures to be followed if the Justice Departments decides to raid another congressional office, they still haven't come close to an understanding of what to do with the material obtained in the raid of Jefferson's office, according to two congressional sources.
That makes Hogan's ruling and any subsequent appellate decision all the more critical. Hogan's ruling is likely to be appealed by the losing side.
According to government affidavits, Jefferson is being investigated concerning allegations that he solicited and accepted bribes to help promote a cable television and Internet business in Nigeria and Ghana. The congressman, who has not been charged, has insisted he has an honorable explanation for all the allegations and predicted he will eventually be cleared of all wrongdoing.
Two associates, a former aide and the CEO of Kentucky-based iGate Inc., which was seeking contracts in Western Africa, have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. A cooperating witness, multimillionaire Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, who had agreed to invest in the iGate project, began wearing a recording device in spring 2005 during meetings and conversations with Jefferson.
The FBI has said in an affidavit that it videotaped Mody handing Jefferson a briefcase with $100,000 in $100 bills on July 30, 2005, and that its agents found all but $10,000 of the cash four days later stashed in the freezer of the congressman's Washington home.
Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported this week that the scope of the subpoena for the Jefferson e-mails had been negotiated by the Department of Justice and House lawyers for months. Under the procedures reportedly agreed to, the e-mails will be assembled, presumably by the House's administrative officer. Once they are assembled, Jefferson and his attorneys will have a chance to argue which e-mails should not be made available to federal prosecutors. It will be up to a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., who is overseeing the nearly 16-month year-old probe, whether Jefferson's arguments are valid.
Jefferson could object to release of e-mails related to his congressional work under the Constitution's speech or debate clause, which bars executive interference with the legislative process.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7861.