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Judge Affirms FBI Search of Congressional Office

A federal judge upholds the FBI's search of the office of Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat at the center of a bribery investigation. The judge also denied a request to have the materials seized in the May raid returned.

Jefferson -- and many top members of Congress -- had challenged the first-ever search of a Congressional office, saying it violated the Constitution.

The search of Jefferson's office in May for evidence in a corruption probe provoked a crisis, as even the Republican House leadership rallied behind Jefferson. His defenders said that FBI agents had exceeded their authority in confiscating computer hard drives and documents which, they argued, must have included legislative materials.

The Justice Department refused to return the materials, leading President Bush to institute a 45-day cooling-off period. But the federal judge rejected Jefferson's interpretation of what's known as the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution.

Judge Thomas Hogan, chief judge of the federal court for the District of Columbia, was clearly not worried that this search threatened the independence of the legislative branch.

Indeed, he seemed more concerned that Jefferson's claim, if recognized, could turn members of Congress into what the judge called "Super Citizens" who could disregard the law.

Jefferson has not been charged in the corruption investigation that prompted the search. But an FBI affidavit says that he was videotaped accepting a $100,000 bribe.

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Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.