Bill Jefferson To Get His Cold Nigerian Cash Back

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A district court ruled that the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2006 raid of the Congressional office of embattled Louisiana Democratic Representative William Jefferson was unconstitutional. The court will also require the FBI to return all privileged materials seized to Jefferson.

"The review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive," according to the ruling from the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, reports AP's Matt Apuzzo.

Jefferson was indicted in June on 16 counts stemming from a public corruption investigation. He pleaded not guilty on all charges, and his trial is set for January 2008.

Jefferson argued that the raid trampled on congressional independence. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker's documents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, nonetheless, sided with Jefferson on the constitutional issue.

The raid 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 Washington home.

"We're pleased with the court's decision that makes it clear that the search violated the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution," Jefferson's attorney, Robert Trout, said after a brief review of the ruling. He said he has not yet discussed the decision with Jefferson.

Jefferson pleaded not guilty in June to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. The Justice Department said it built that case without using the disputed documents from the raid.

The Justice Department said it took extraordinary steps to avoid crossing that line. Government attorneys said the Constitution was not intended to shield lawmakers from prosecution for political corruption.

The case has cut across political party lines. Former House Speakers Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and Thomas Foley, a Democrat, filed legal documents opposing the raid, along with former House Minority Leader Robert Michel, a Republican.

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