Top law enforcement officials at the Justice Department and the FBI indicated to their counterparts at the White House that they could not, and were unwilling to, return documents to the Louisiana Democrat which were seized as part of a bribery investigation.
CBS News has learned that there was concern among prosecutors and FBI agents that the White House would give in to Congressional pressure and return the materials to Jefferson. But, according to the administration official, Mueller, Gonzales and his top deputy Paul McNulty made it clear that they "going to the final end of the mat" to keep them.
Inside the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney's office was pushing for the materials to be returned. Cheney's Chief of Staff David Addington argued internally that the search was questionable.
The dispute raged across Washington all week before President George W. Bush eased tensions on Thursday, for 45 days.
More than a dozen FBI agents conducted an all-night search of Jefferson's office last week. They took two boxes of paper records and made a copy of everything on Jefferson's personal computer, Robert Trout, Jefferson's lawyer, said in his demanding the return of the materials.
The FBI and prosecutors refused to allow lawyers for Jefferson or the House of Representatives to be present for the search, Trout and House officials said.
In an affidavit supporting the search warrant, the FBI said it had videotaped Jefferson last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents had found $90,000 of that cash stuffed in a freezer in his home.
House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert to President Bush at least twice. He was joined Wednesday by his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, in a statement demanding the FBI give back the material it seized.
Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson to promote the high-tech business venture in Africa. One of them, Brett Pfeffer, a former aide to the congressman, was scheduled to be sentenced Friday in Alexandria, Va. Jefferson has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
A senior law enforcement official said the cooling-off period ordered by the president would not affect the investigation. "There is videotape of the congressman putting cash in the trunk of his car," the official tells CBS News. "Two plea agreements and more than enough evidence to finish this case."
Historians said the raid was the first such search of a House or Senate member's office since the first Congress convened 219 years ago.
Its unprecedented nature and the lack of notice given Hastert set off loud complaints from both Republicans and Democrats that the administration was overstepping its authority.
Editor's Note: For several hours on Saturday, May 27th, this story incorrectly identified Jefferson as a Republican. We regret the error.