Watchdog: Jefferson Court Opinion “Such a Help” for Corrupt Pols

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Well, here’s a clear verdict on this morning’s appeals court opinion on the FBI’s raid of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). It’s a great day for corrupt lawmakers, says Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. CREW filed an amicus brief in the case arguing for the search’s constitutionality.

It’s a “devastating opinion,” Sloan says. “If I were Ted Stevens, and I had some evidence of wrongdoing, I’d be putting it in my Congressional office, because the court basically just issued a blanket cover against searches…. It’s such a help to any corrupt members of Congress, since it offers so much more protection than was previously offered.”

In a previous circuit opinion ruling against Jefferson, a judge had called this sort of protection “a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime.”

“I cannot believe that the Justice Department won’t appeal this to the Supreme Court,” Sloan said. “It’s a very expansive readings of the Speech or Debate Clause [of the Constitution].”

The opinion said that FBI agents were wrong to have taken privileged (i.e. legislative) documents, the ones protected by the Speech or Debate Clause, from Jefferson’s office. But by saying that, the court effectively prohibits the FBI from entering a Congressional office without the say-so of the lawmaker. Doing that creates a “fox guarding the henhouse problem,” says Sloan.