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Justice Dept. Subpoenas Jefferson’s E-mails

The Justice Department has issued a new subpoena for e-mails from Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is at the center of an ongoing bribery and corruption investigation.

The subpoena, approved by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., was sent last week to James Eagan, Chief Administrative Officer of the House. The Jefferson probe is being overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria.

The subpoena was read into the Congressional Record on Thursday evening, as required under House rules, but did not specify that Jefferson was the target of the request.

The Justice Department is seeking e-mail traffic from Jefferson’s office prior to Aug. 3, 2005, when FBI agents raided his home and car, according to sources close to the case. The Justice Department and House officials have been negotiating over the scope of the subpoena for months, said the sources.

Any e-mails relevant to the Justice Department search will now be assembled, and Jefferson will be allowed to review them and decide whether he wants to try to assert his privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause and withhold them from the federal prosecutors. Jefferson would then have to file a legal motion in federal court in Alexandria outlining the reasons for why they should not be turned over to federal investigators.

Jefferson’s attorney declined to comment for this article.

The House Administration Committee, which oversees Eagan’s office, also had no comment.

Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building was raided by FBI agents on May 20, a move that infuriated both Democratic and GOP leaders. Jefferson’s legal team, backed by the House leadership, has challenged the propriety of the raid in court. An initial ruling in that case is expected soon. House officials are negotiating with the Justice Department over ground rules for any future search of a Congressional office. Those talks remain ongoing.

Jefferson has been waging a legal fight with the Justice Department in federal court in Alexandria, but the proceedings in that case are under seal and not publicly available.

Jefferson is suspected of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in return for his assistance in aiding a Kentucky businessman win several telecom deals in Africa. That businessman, Vernon Jackson, has already pleaded guilty in federal court to paying bribes to Jefferson beginning in 2001 through a company owned by his wife and five daughters.

A former Jefferson aide, Brett Pfeffer, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a Member of Congress. Pfeffer has been sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his role in the bribery scheme.

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