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Jefferson Wants Bribery Charges Thrown Out, Claiming Violation By Justice Dept.

Attorneys for Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) are seeking dismissal of most of the charges against the veteran lawmaker, arguing that the Justice Department violated his constitutional privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause when seeking an indictment of him.

In a motion filed Tuesday with a federal court in Alexandria, where Jefferson is scheduled to go on trial in January, Jefferson's lawyers argue that Justice Department prosecutors improperly asked several Jefferson aides about protected legislative matters when seeking an indictment of the Louisiana Democrat.

In reviewing the transcripts of the grand-jury testimony of six Jefferson staffers, Jefferson's attorneys allege "information protected by the Speech or Debate privilege specifically relating to Mr. Jefferson's legislative activities ... was presented to the grand jury and tied to the bribery schemes alleged in the indictment." Accordingly, "this use of privileged evidence warrants dismissal of all of the counts of the indictment based on these alleged bribery schemes," which would amount, in their view, to 14 of the16 counts against Jefferson.

Barring dismissal of the bribery counts, Jefferson's lawyers want the right to further examine grand-jury transcripts for potential violations of the Speech or Debate Clause. According to their court filings, Jefferson's defense team has not had access to all those documents, and so far, has only been allowed to review, but not photocopy, any grand-jury materials shown to them.

The grand jury transcripts covering the testimony by Jefferson's aides were made available to the defense team following a motion filed last month. Tuesday filing was Jefferson's first formal response to what was conrained in those transcripts.

Federal prosecutors have asserted that they have not violated the Speech or Debate Clause, which prevents members and staff for legal actions tied to legislative matters, in charging Jefferson.