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Senate majority leader supports FBI's search

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 29, 2006


WASHINGTON - In a break with his counterparts in the House, the Senate's leader said Sunday the FBI was within its right to search the office of a congressman under investigation in a bribery case.

"No House member, no senator, nobody in government should be above the law of the land, period," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said.

Frist, R-Tenn., was responding to the search conducted May 20-21 in the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. FBI agents removed computer records and other records in their pursuit of evidence that Jefferson accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for helping set up business deals in Africa.

It was the first time a warrant had been used to search a lawmaker's office in the history of the Congress.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California responded with a rare joint statement, protesting that the FBI had not notified them and contending that the search violated the Constitution's separation of power protections.

Frist said he examined the provision closely and talked the issue over with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He concluded that the FBI acted appropriately.

"I don't think it abused separation of powers," Frist said Sunday. "I think there's allegations of criminal activity, and the American people need to have the law enforced."

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which plans a hearing Tuesday on the constitutionality of the search, said the FBI overstepped its authority. Rep. James Sensenbrenner compared the search of a congressman's office to a Capitol Police raid of the Oval Office.

"This debate is not over whether Congressman Jefferson is guilty of a criminal offense," Sensenbrenner said." "He cannot use the constitutional immunity of Congress to shield himself from that or any evidence of that. But it is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch."

[Last modified May 29, 2006, 06:42:13]


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