U.S. House leaders demanded the return of materials seized in an unprecedented FBI raid on the office of a congressman under investigation for bribery but experts quoted by the Los Angeles Times said the search appeared to be legal. Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.) of the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next week on what he called serious constitutional questions about the search of the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.).
“The legal right of the government to do this is pretty easy,” said Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor. “It is only a matter of a judgment: Do you really want this evidence enough to take the political heat that will come down on you when you take such an unprecedented step?” Georgetown law professor Mark Tushnet also said he did not see a constitutional problem with the search. “If they can prosecute you for something without violating the speech-and-debate clause, they can use the ordinary methods for gathering evidence of the crime, including searches of your office,” he said. A clause in the Constitution says of lawmakers, “For any speech or debate in either house, they shall not be questioned in any other place.” The Supreme Court has ruled that this privilege applies to official duties and is not a shield for criminals.