WASHINGTON – Rep. William J. Jefferson on Monday criticized a search of his congressional office in relation to a federal bribery investigation but refused to discuss the facts of the legal case in front of him.
Federal prosecutors allege the Louisiana Democrat accepted $100,000 in cash in exchange for assistance with a deal involving contracts for a communications company.
"I do want to say to you that there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to this story certainly ... and there will be an appropriate time where that can be explained and explicated," Jefferson said.
"I can't talk about the facts of the matter and to whether things look good or don't look good," he said.
Federal agents entered Jefferson's office on Capitol Hill Saturday night and Sunday to search for evidence of wire fraud and bribery, including bribery of a foreign official, according to court documents.
Jefferson is under investigation for allegedly helping an American Internet company called iGate do business with Nigeria and Ghana. Kentucky businessman Vernon Jackson pleaded guilty in federal court to bribing Jefferson in the Nigerian scheme with more than $400,000 in payments, company stock and other profit-sharing incentives to promote his company's business dealings in Africa.
Last August, FBI agents searched Jefferson's home in New Orleans and his home in Washington, D.C. Agents found $90,000 in stacks of $100 bills wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in frozen food containers in the freezer of his D.C. home.
Those bills matched the serial numbers of money stashed in a leather briefcase by law enforcement last July and given to an FBI informant who allegedly handed it over to Jefferson, who then supposedly put the case in a cloth bag, stuffs the bag in a car and then drives the car away.
The informant apparently is a northern Virginia business executive who agreed to wear a wire after she reported to the FBI that Jefferson and an associate ripped her off in a business deal.
Court papers add that a secret audiotape of Jefferson with the informant reveals the congressman laughing about writing in code to keep secret that he wants a cut of the deal to go to his children. Chuckling, he is heard saying, "All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching."
According to the affidavit, the $100,000 was intended for a high-ranking Nigerian official whose name is blacked out in the court document in order to ensure the success of the business deal in his country. Other details in the affidavit indicate that official is Abubakar Atiku, Nigeria's vice president. He owns a home in Potomac, Md., that authorities have searched as part of the Jefferson investigation.
Jefferson has yet to be charged with a crime and vows he has done nothing wrong. His attorney, Robert Trout, said the search was way out of bounds.
"Congressman Jefferson has not been charged with any crime. ... The congressman has consistently maintained his innocence, and if he is charged he will respond at the appropriate time," Trout said in a written statement issued Sunday.
The nearly 100-page affidavit for a search warrant, made public Sunday with large portions blacked out, spells out much of the evidence so far, including "seven other schemes" in which Jefferson was allegedly involved.
Trout said making the affidavit public is "part of a public relations agenda and an obvious attempt to embarrass Congressman Jefferson."
For others, however, the biggest concern is whether the FBI infringed on its authority by searching a congressional office.
"There is no excuse for the FBI for the first time in history searching a congressional office and apparently doing so in total regard of due process as it relates to the Legislative Branch. ... The protection of the legislative branch from the executive branch's policing powers is a fundamental principle which goes all the way back to the English Civil War," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an e-mail sent to about 50 lawmakers.
"The president should respond accordingly and should discipline (probably fire) whoever exhibited this extraordinary violation. ... As a former Speaker of the House I am shaken by this abuse of power," Gingrich said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he is "very concerned" about the weekend search and House and Senate counsel are now meeting. He said he has asked his counsel "to advise us on the proper course of action before we go any further."
But senior Justice Department officials dispute arguments that the search violated long-accepted divisions between the executive and legislative branches, saying the affidavit drafted in advance of the issuance of the search warrant contains "protections" to be taken by agents to protect congressional rights under the Constitution's speech and debate clause.
Added Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: "We understand the equities involved and the institutional concerns. We in the executive branch will work with the legislative branch to allay these concerns, but we understand these were unusual steps taken under unusual circumstances, and beyond that there is not much more I can say."
Despite the battle over separation of powers, a knowledgeable Democratic source told FOX News that party leaders are already preparing for the political fallout.
"Seeing the potential problems with [Rep.] Jefferson, national Democrats have approached Oliver Thomas, city council president, and state Rep. Karen Carter about a possible run" to fill his seat.
Jefferson, who has said he will not resign from Congress in the face of the investigation, is heard in one conversation discussing his political future, according to the tapes.
"I'm gonna get your deal out of the way ... and I probably won't last long after that," he said.
FOX News' Kelly Wright and Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.