FBI officials say their investigation of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) can get "back on track" with a ruling by Judge Thomas Hogan denying a motion by Jefferson and the House of Representative's Counsel to return documents the FBI seized from Jefferson's office on May 20 and 21.
Justice Department officials say they had originally hoped to indict Jefferson by June 30 so that the "political situation" in Jefferson's home district could "right itself" before the November election. Officials say if the documents are now available to them, an indictment is likely sometime this summer.
The House Counsel and Jefferson's own counsel claimed that the Speech and Debate Clause had been violated by the FBI and Justice Department in their ongoing bribery investigation of Jefferson for attempting to influence deals for telecommunications companies in Africa.
In his opinion Judge Hogan wrote, "The Court has found that the search executed on Congressman Jefferson's congressional office was constitutional, as it did not trigger the Speech or Debate Clause privilege, did not offend the principle of the separation of powers, and was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court will deny the motion for return of property."
Hogan noted that a "filter team" of FBI agents reviewed the seized materials for any legislative activities. This filter team was comprised of agents walled off from FBI agents working with prosecutors in the investigation. "Accordingly, the Court finds that the search did not impermissibly interfere with Congressman Jefferson's legislative activities," Hogan wrote in his opinion.
The opinion also notes, "Congress' capacity to function effectively is not threatened by permitting congressional offices to be searched pursuant to validly issued search warrants, which are only available in relation to criminal investigations, are subject to the rigors of the Fourth Amendment, and require prior approval by the neutral third branch of government."
President Bush had ordered that the documents be placed under seal and held in the Solicitor General's office for 45 days while the case was being reviewed. That deadline passed yesterday.
Judge Hogan was the Judge that signed the Jefferson search warrant back in May. Last month a senior DOJ official told ABC News that should not be a conflict since judges are objective and will consider all facts and the law.