To much fanfare and self-congratulation, the U.S. Congress passed ethics legislation last week supposedly making the members subject to the same standards of behavior the rest of us live by.
At almost the same time, a federal court handed down a decision involving a congressman whose office was raided by the FBI last year as part of a bribery case that included the earlier discovery of $90,000 he stashed in his home freezer. The ruling reminds us how much more Washington is like Vegas than Peoria. Under the Constitution, a congressman can protect his legislative files from being searched. In other words, what happens in your Capitol Hill office stays in your Capitol Hill office.
The ruling came in the matter of Representative William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat indicted for bribery in June. Jefferson allegedly got the $90,000 from a telecommunications entrepreneur who enlisted his help in getting approval from a Nigerian official to do business in that country.
The court didn't buy that the Justice Department did everything it could during the search to shield privileged documents, short of letting Jefferson conduct his own raid. A ``filter team'' removed any material that smacked of Jefferson's legislative duties. The court found the effort insufficient ``to protect the privilege'' of the legislative branch to be free from intrusions by the executive branch.
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