We were as surprised as anyone to hear last week that the FBI had searched the congressional office of former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) shortly after he lost his reelection bid in 2006.
The Albany Times Union reported that the FBI "took computers, cellphones, various electronic devices, equipment and records from his aides, two sources familiar with the matter said."
That sounded like a pretty big deal to have gone unreported for 18 months, especially since in the meantime Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) successfully challenged the constitutionality of an FBI search of his Capitol Hill office.
So we started calling around to see what more we could find out about the Sweeney raid. The people we talked whom you would think would know about such a raid expressed the same surprise we did.
"There haven't been any other searches that I'm aware of," said Amy Berman Jackson, one of Jefferson's attorneys who helped appeal the search. During the time period between the Jefferson raid in May 2006 and the final court decision in the case in August 2007, the FBI was "really hamstrung" regarding investigations of congressional offices, she said.
Kerri Hanley, the deputy Sergeant at Arms for the House, said she'd heard nothing about it. And a spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was unfamiliar with any raid on Sweeney's office.
Nevertheless, a person with knowledge of the investigation tells TPMmuckraker that the FBI did take the unusual step of asking Sweeney to preserve his computer records for further investigation after he left office. He did so voluntarily, which made any search mostly unnecessary, according to this source.
We repeatedly called Sweeney's attorney, E. Stewart Jones in Troy, NY, and got no response.
A grand jury in Washington is scheduled to convene on Friday to hear evidence in the investigation of Sweeney and his wife. And we're still curious whether the name Jack Abramoff will come up during that proceeding.