Raid of lawmaker's office called wrong

WASHINGTON - An attorney for Rep. William J. Jefferson (D., La.) told federal judges yesterday that last year's FBI raid on Jefferson's office had grave implications for the independence of the legislative branch, and asked the court to declare the search unconstitutional.

Jefferson says the Justice Department crossed the line when it raided his office in a bribery investigation. His lawyer, Robert P. Trout, argued that point before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Jefferson did not attend the hearing.

Judge Judith W. Rogers questioned whether Justice carried out the raid appropriately. The raid was part of a 16-month investigation of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, $90,000 of which was later recovered from a freezer in his Louisiana home. - AP

Shuttle hit by hail back on launchpad

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Atlantis returned to the launchpad yesterday after 21/2 months of repairs to its external fuel tank because of hail damage that postponed the year's first shuttle flight until June.

The 3.4-mile trip from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the pad took less than seven hours aboard the shuttle's massive crawler-transporter. Hundreds of white speckles were visible atop the tank, where technicians had sprayed on or hand-poured new insulation foam and sanded down spots.

Atlantis last traveled to the pad in February, when a storm pounded its tank with golf-ball-sized hail that left thousands of dings in the insulating foam.

NASA managers then postponed a planned mid-March launch and ordered the repairs. The launch is now planned for no earlier than June 8.- AP

House OKs delay of Mexican trucks

WASHINGTON - The House voted 411-3 yesterday to delay a Bush administration plan to allow Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways.

The trucks would have to be declared safe first, lawmakers said, and Mexico would have to give U.S. truckers the same access south of the border.

Lawmakers said their major concern was whether Mexican trucks and drivers would be able to meet rigorous U.S. safety standards. Lawmakers also contended that allowing Mexican trucks greater access would cost U.S. truckers their jobs.

Since 1982, trucks have had to stop within a buffer zone, a 20-mile limit from the border, and transfer their loads to U.S. truckers to take them into the country. The legislation would let Mexican drivers take their loads from Mexico to any point within the United States.- AP

Elsewhere:

Governors could order federal facilities to lower their flags to honor fallen military troops under legislation passed 408-4 by the House yesterday. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Tennessee closed a day-care facility in Lafayette after a worker allegedly hid crying infants in a storage room during an unannounced inspection, possibly to disguise inadequate staffing, officials said.