Probe Of Rep Jefferson Delayed

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., takes part in a Capitol Hill news conference, Monday, May 22, 2006. The FBI revealed Sunday that Jefferson, under investigation for bribery, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily delayed a Justice Department bribery investigation of a Louisiana congressman while he challenges the legality of an unprecedented FBI raid on his legislative office.

The decision by two members of a three-judge panel means the Justice Department cannot start a review set to begin Wednesday of more than a dozen computer hard drives, several floppy discs and two boxes of documents seized during a May 20-21 raid on Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's office.

Jefferson allegedly offered a telecommunications company help in seeking contracts in Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries in exchange for bribes. He has denied this, and no charges have been brought against him.

"The purpose of this administrative injunction is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay pending appeal and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion," wrote Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas B. Griffith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The identity of the third judge is not known.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had set a Wednesday deadline to allow a special review team of prosecutors and FBI agents to begin culling through the evidence seized during the controversial raid on Jefferson's office.

The overnight search, which lasted 18 hours, was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman's Louisiana home.

Jefferson's appeal challenges a ruling earlier this month by Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who upheld the legality of the raid, saying that barring searches of lawmakers' offices could turn Capitol Hill into "a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime."

According to a government court filing last week, Jefferson also is under investigation in "at least seven other schemes in which the congressman sought things of value in exchange for his performance of official acts."

Jefferson wants the appellate court to allow him to look at the seized materials before the special review team to determine whether any of the documents fell into the category of legislative privilege.

At issue is a U.S. constitutional provision known as the speech or debate clause, which protects elected officials from being questioned by the president, a prosecutor or a plaintiff in a lawsuit about their legislative work.