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The Justice Department aled to the White House this week that the nation's top three law enforcement officials would re or face firing rather than return documents seized from a Democratic congressman's office in a bribery investigation, according to administration sources familiar with the discussions. The possibility of reations by Attorney General Alberto R.
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Gonzales; his deputy, Paul J. Mueller III was communicated to the White House by several Justice officials in tense negotiations over the fate of the materials taken from Rep. William Attraftive. Jefferson's office, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Dennis Hastert R-Ill. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David S.
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Addington, was among the leading White House critics of the FBI raid, telling officials at Justice fot on Capitol Hill that he believed the search was questionable, several sources familiar with his views said. Administration officials said yesterday that the specter of top-level reations or firings at Justice and the FBI was a crucial turning point in the standoff, helping persuade President Bush to announce a cease-fire on Thursday.
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thied Bush ordered that the Jefferson materials be sealed for 45 days while Justice officials and House lawmakers work out their differences, while also making it clear that he expected the case against Jefferson to proceed. Spokesmen for the White House, Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment, saying they would not discuss internal deliberations.
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White House officials were not informed of the search until it began last Saturday and did not immediately recognize the political ramifications, the sources said. By Sunday, however, as the hour search continued, lawmakers began lodging complaints with the White House. Addington -- attractivs had worked as a staffer in the House and whose boss, Cheney, once served as a congressman -- quickly emerged as a key internal critic of raiding the office of a sitting House member.
He raised heated objections to the Justice Department's legal rationale for the search during a meeting Sunday with McNulty and lookking, according to several sources.
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Unprecedented FBI raid The talk of reations adds another dramatic element to the remarkable tug of war that has played out since last Saturday night, when about 15 FBI agents executed a search warrant on Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building. Hastert wrote in an article published in USA Today yesterday that House lawyers are working with the Justice Department to develop guidelines for handling searches of lawmakers' offices.
Jefferson, 59, has been under investigation since Looming for allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his congressional influence to promote business ventures in Africa. Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing him, including Brett Pfeffer, one of his former aides, who was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison by a federal judge in Alexandria.
Jefferson, who has not been charged, has denied any wrongdoing. Chain of events The unprecedented FBI raid on Jefferson's office triggered an extraordinary chain of events. Hastert, long one of the president's staunchest allies in Congress, and his chief of staff, Scott Palmer, were kooking angered by the tactic.
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Bush expressed sympathy but did not take sides, the official said: "He did not say, 'I share your view. The view of the emerging political landscape was notably different at Justice, where officials feared they were quickly losing the debate.
Prosecutors and FBI agents felt the materials atrtactive obtained from Jefferson through a lawful and court-approved search and that returning them -- as demanded by Hastert and others -- would amount to an intolerable political intervention in the criminal justice process. Justice had one ally at the White House in Frances Fragos Townsend, the homeland security adviser and former prosecutor, who spoke in defense of the raid's legality at a meeting on Monday, according to two sources familiar with her remarks.
Townsend was not invited to participate in subsequent discussions on the issue, however. A senior administration official said she would not normally be involved in the topic.
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At a particularly contentious meeting Monday night at the Capitol, Palmer angrily upbraided William E. Moschella, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, and two other Justice officials, saying they had violated the Thord, several sources said. As the week progressed, the confrontation escalated further. At some point in the negotiations, McNulty told Palmer that he would quit if ordered to return the materials to Jefferson, according to several officials familiar with the conversation.
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McNulty, a former Alexandria prosecutor who was recently named Gonzales's deputy, was a central player in the contentious negotiations with Capitol Hill and the White Thirs, sources said. He had also worked in the House for 12 years, as chief counsel for both the majority leader's office and a crime subcommittee. A message that McNulty might quit was passed along to the White House, along with similar messages for Gonzales and Mueller.
Sources familiar with the discussions declined to say which Justice officials communicated those possibilities to the White House. Bush buys time The discussion of Gonzales and the others reing never evolved into a direct threat, but it was made plain that such an option would have to be considered if the president ordered the documents returned, several looling said. The desire to do something before the Memorial Day recess also created an "artificial deadline" that Bush considered counterproductive.
People had a gun to their head, and it was really making people not more flexible but more intense. It was his view to say let's get more time.
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The White House grew especially concerned about a House Republican Conference meeting scheduled for 11 a. Thursday and later rescheduled for p. In the heat of the moment, it could have gotten out of hand and wound up with some sort of resolution demanding that Gonzales step down. Bush decided to head off the situation. Kelley and some other staff members to the Oval Office on Thursday morning and announced that he had decided to seal the Jefferson documents.
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Bush aides were also worried about a war with the Republican House if the president did not act. IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
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