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FBI searches congressman's office

Rep. William Jefferson is focus of federal bribery probe

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Rep. William Jefferson speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference in March.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI agents were on Capitol Hill on Saturday searching the office of Rep. William Jefferson as part of a bribery investigation into the Louisiana Democrat, government officials said.

Agents searched Jefferson's New Orleans, Louisiana, home in August, but Saturday marked the first time the FBI has ever searched a congressman's Capitol Hill office, one official said.

The search in the Rayburn Office Building began at 7:15 p.m. and was expected to last several hours, FBI spokeswoman Deborah Weierman said. The affidavit and search warrant are sealed, but a portion would be made public once the search is complete, she said.

Weierman said the search was "in conjunction with an ongoing public corruption investigation."

The Justice Department has been investigating Jefferson's involvement in telecommunications deals in Africa and elsewhere. The House Ethics Committee launched an investigation of him last week.

Vernon Jackson of Louisville, Kentucky, pleaded guilty in federal court this month to bribing the congressman with more than $400,000 in payments, company stock and a share of the profits to promote a Kentucky company's high-tech business ventures in Africa. (Full story)

The cloud over Jefferson comes as Democratic leaders have been attacking what they call a "culture of corruption" surrounding the Republican leadership in Congress.

With midterm elections looming, Democrats are trying to highlight GOP ties to the influence-peddling investigation targeting lobbyist Jack Abramoff and last year's guilty plea of California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-year stretch for taking bribes from defense contractors.

In a news conference last week, Jefferson said he was innocent and that he would remain in office while he fights any charges. (Full story)

"I wish to say emphatically that in all of my actions that are here under scrutiny, that I have never intended to dishonor my office, or you, the public, and I certainly did not sell my office," Jefferson told reporters.

A government official close to the investigation said the search was conducted when few people are on Capitol Hill because they believed that time would be "appropriate."

A spokeswoman for Jefferson had no comment on the search.

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