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FBI raid: Presidency seeks documents to nail Atiku

Posted by By Jamie Dominics, The Sun correspondent, Washington DC. on 2006/07/14 | Views: 289 |

FBI raid: Presidency seeks documents to nail Atiku

Aso Rock is keeping a close eye on a new twist in the case of an American lawmaker whose bribery allegations led to a search on Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s Potomac residence.

Aso Rock is keeping a close eye on a new twist in the case of an American lawmaker whose bribery allegations led to a search on Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s Potomac residence.

A federal judge has okayed a controversial FBI’s unprecedented raid of Rep. William Jefferson congressional office, saying that barring searches of lawmakers’ offices would turn Capitol Hill into "a taxpayer subsidized sanctuary for crime."

Although the FBI had cleared Atiku of any wrong doing, Aso Rock is taking an unusual interest in the case, hoping the seized documents might implicate Atiku who is locked in a battle for supremacy with President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Sources said Nigerian authorities have requested American law enforcement officials to keep the government updated on the outcome of the investigations.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan also rejected requests from lawmakers and Jefferson to return material seized by the FBI in a May 20-21 search of his office. The overnight search was part of a 17 month bribery investigation of Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who visited the Potomac residence of Atiku during one of his visits to the U.S.

In a 28-page opinion, Hogan dismissed arguments by Jefferson and a bipartisan group of House leaders that the raid violated the constitution’s protections against intimidation of elected officials. Hogan acknowledged the "unprecedented" nature of the case.

He said however, that the lawmaker’s ‘"sweeping" theory of legislative privilege "would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer subsidized sanctuary for crime."
"A member of Congress is bound by the same laws as ordinary citizens," said the judge, who had approved the FBI’s request to conduct the overnight search of Jefferson’s office. Jefferson had sought the return of several computer hard drives, floppy disks and two boxes of paper documents that FBI agents seized during the 18-hour search of his Rayburn Building office.

Hogan said the Justice Department can retake custody of the materials, which President Bush ordered held by the solicitor general until Congress and the agency could work out procedures for future raids on congressional offices.

Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout, said he was not surprised by the ruling and would appeal as soon as possible. Trout is expected to ask Hogan to stay his ruling to keep the materials away from investigators until an appeals court looks at the case.

"While a congressman is not above the law, the executive branch must also follow the law," Trout said. "We appreciate the consideration the judge accorded our motion for the return of the seized property, but we respectfully disagree with his conclusion.

Justice department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said the office was pleased with the judge’s decision and said prosecutors would continue discussions with Congress to work out procedures for future raids.

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