Government Answers Jefferson

Posted June 2, 2008 at 2:34pm

The government on Friday filed a brief with a federal appeals court disputing Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) argument that the bulk of the charges in his corruption trial should be dismissed because the government built its case on privileged materials.

The 16-count criminal indictment against Jefferson, which includes charges of bribery and wire fraud, alleges that the Louisiana Congressman accepted and offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in west African nations.

Jefferson’s attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in February after a district court denied his request to throw out 14 of the counts on the grounds that testimony before a grand jury violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause.

The Speech or Debate clause protects some legislative activity from intervention by other branches of government.

The government’s brief reiterates the findings of the lower court that the activities described in the testimony are not privileged materials because they are not central to Jefferson’s legislative duties. The core of the indictment, the court ruled, involves “allegedly criminal non-legislative activities,” such as meeting with foreign officials, engaging in official travel and using his Congressional staff to promote business deals and arrange bribes.

The government also disputes Jefferson’s attempts to review all evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury for possible violations of the Speech or Debate clause.

After Jefferson’s attorneys first filed a motion requesting to review all testimony and evidence presented to the grand jury, the government released to the defense more than 600 pages of transcripts from testimony given by Jefferson’s former staff members.

In the May 30 brief, the government argues that releasing the testimony by Jefferson’s staff is sufficient to address the defense’s concern and that alleged violations “plucked” from the transcripts by Jefferson’s attorneys are merely references to the Louisiana Congressman’s position and office, not violations of the clause.