RICHMOND, Va. - Testimony before a federal grand jury about Rep. William Jefferson's role in passing an African trade bill and the influence it gave him with African leaders violated a separation of powers clause in the Constitution and requires that 14 of 16 criminal charges against the congressman be thrown out, his attorney argued Tuesday.
Attorney Robert Trout told a three-judge appeals panel that the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution is "absolute," and intended to ensure that the legislative branch is "independent" and a "co-equal" branch with the executive.
But some of the judges, through their questioning, seemed skeptical about Trout's remedy - dismissal of all the bribery-related charges in the 16-count indictment.
Judge Paul Niemeyer, an appointee of President George H. W. Bush, suggested that for the court to do as Trout suggested it would have to find "misconduct" by federal prosecutors.
He asked federal prosecutor if the government's indictment depends on the evidence, most of it given the grand jury by a former Jefferson aide, and if the case could move forward without the description of the congressman's influence with African leaders.