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June 01, 2006

Searching, unsuccessfully, for a search snit

"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain

I been trying really, really hard to work up a major snit about the jack-booted Executive Branch Cops stomping on our revered Constitution's seperation-of-powers doctrine with a Midnight Raid on the Official Capitol Hill Office of an Official Member of Congress. Having trouble, though it should be easy.

Our current executive and his minions haven't paid much attention to constitutional doctrine, except to dodge it if it got in the way of collecting telephone records on millions of us, or doing warrantless wire taps, or running secret prisons or declaring in "presidential signing statements" that the law being created doesn't particularly apply to the executive, unless he wants it, too.

Even Denny Hastert, the former Illinois high school coach turned Speaker of the House, is upset. Upset enough to hold hands with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and denounce the FBI search of Rep. Bill Jefferson's office as a major affront to the Constitution.

That's pretty heavy stuff for Hastert, an administration loyalist who's managed not to see or speak about all those other affronts to the Constitution. Just yell "War on Terror" at him and he's for whatever it is, sensible or not.

Still, with Denny and Nancy backing me or not, I can't get upset.

First, there's every reason to be snooping into the business of Mr. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat.

On Jan. 10, Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, pleaded guilty to bribing a public official, the public official being Rep. Jefferson. In May, a businessman named Vernon Jackson pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson -- $400,000 in return for help with a telecommunications deal in Nigeria. (Jefferson is co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus.)

The cops even have Jefferson on tape taking $100,000 in marked bills. They said they found $90,000 of it in the deep freeze at Jefferson's D. C. apartment when they searched it in August.

Jefferson, a Harvard-trained lawyer, has been ignoring FBI subpoenas for various documents for 10 months or so.

Leaves the search sounding downright reasonable, doesn't it. Especially since the FBI agents who spent 18 hours rummaging through Jefferson's office had a warrant. The judge who issued it did so knowing the place to be searched, what was to be searched for and why it was being sought. The congressional office part didn't bother him.

Doesn't bother me much either, despite my general distrust of this administration and its power-grabbing ways. The trail here is pretty clearly marked; it needs to be followed where it leads, congressional office or not.

If Hastert/Pelosi et.al want to fight over separation-of-powers, let's hear a little more about those "presidential signing statements" and such. With you all the way on that one, guys.

But shielding one of your own from a well justified criminal investigation? Nah. You've lost me there.

Posted by jcb at June 1, 2006 09:35 AM


I guess I'll have to go back and read some of my civics lessons from high school or college, as I don't understand this seperation-of-powers argument being put forth by the Congressional powers. It seems to me all Hastert/Pelosi are trying to do is protect their own and continue to go by the doctrine that the rules and laws are for everyone but Congress. Who else but the FBI would be the "police force" to investigate the Congress for criminal activity and wrongdoing? That's the part I don't understand. And I also thought that the real reason Hastert got so bent out of shape was that ABC did a report that alleged that Hastert might have had some connection to Jackson, but I could be wrong on who the connection was with.

While in some ways I disagree with some of the "power-grabbing" by the administration, I fail so see why the anger on this from the leaders of Congress. No wonder polls show a general mistrust of Congress in general. This only fortifies that mistrust.

Posted by: Confused at June 1, 2006 11:13 AM

Good article. One needs to step carefully in with issues as they relate to the Constitution, and I cannot expect that the Justice Department would be stupid enough not to cover their bases on this matter. The fact that the Executive Branch coupled with the Judicial Branch in order to investigate a clearly corrupt thief Congresman seems reasonable.

If the search warrent did not follow the finding of 90k in his freezer, then I think that the issue would be up for grabs a little more.

This was not the Executive Branch stepping into the Legislative Branch on a governmental or policy issue, this was the police going after a thief. Shame on Hastert for backing up a felony.

Posted by: havinfun at June 1, 2006 11:34 AM

Confused -- Yes, Hastert was additionally outraged because of an ABC story that suggested he's under investigation in the Abramoff corruption case. The Justice Department says he's not being investigation. ABC so far is standing by the report.

Havinfun -- make that "alleged" thief, and there's not an "official" allegation even. Jefferson has not been charged with anything, he says he's not done anything wrong and that he intends to run for re-election.

It's fair to wonder at this point though, why
charges have NOT been filed, given all the info the Justice Department has revealed so far in various court filings, and in related cases.

Posted by: jcb at June 1, 2006 12:49 PM

I think a reasonable case could be made that this indeed is an overstepping of boundaries between the executive and congress.

First of all, it's never been done before in 230 years, which should tell you something.

Secondly, with an administration as secretive and hell-bent on controlling people, especially to stiffle dissent, can't anyone see how this may end up being abused as a bludgeon for the White House to use against any member of congress who starts asking "incovenient" questions about the administration?

After all, Jefferson could likely have EASILY been prosecuted without storming into his capitol office. They threatened to break down doors, the general counsel of the house wasn't notified, they side-stepped and evaded every normal legal proceedure.

Many constitutional law professors and others have stepped forward and clearly stated that this was an incredibly arrogant and blatantly unconstitutional move by the Justice Dept. and FBI.

Don't let the fact that Jefferson is likely as dirty as they come cloud your judgement when considering the propiety of the executive branch being able to legally harass the congress in their own building.

And perhaps more important. Consider that this situatiion is literally begging for abuse if it is allowed.

Remember when it was proven that Republican staffers had hacked into Dem computers and gotten access to confidential strategy memos about how they planned to stand up to Bush's judicial nominees?

What's to say that this gang of thugs in the White House wouldn't use a trumped up investigation as a pretext for confiscating capitol hill computers in order to scour them for priveledged information, strategy, or for any bit of dirt they could then use to blackmail congressmen into voting their way?

Hasn't anyone factored that into this equation?

Posted by: TID at June 1, 2006 12:57 PM

TID, it would be much easier to consider your issues if you were no so blatently anti-Bush (which is abundantly clear in your writing). If you would (could) take that out of the equation, I would certainly be wiling to consider a reasonable argument.

However, it seems so apparent that this is nothing more than an 'alleged' criminal activity - and as stated earlier by someone else - is this not a check-and-balance government.

I have no problem checking my conservative/ Republican-bent by saying that Hastert stepped over the line protecting the 'status-quo' as well as a(n) 'alleged' criminal.

Posted by: havinfun at June 1, 2006 01:21 PM

TID -- I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, and there's no doubt the search was ham-handed, seemingly designed to be as irritating as possible. But ...

Was the FBI anymore ham-handed in this search than in any other they do?

Beyond that, Why Jefferson? How to explain the videotape? The money in the freezer? Was the former Jefferson aide and the businessman who fingered the congressman part of government-initiated set-up? Is it all entrapment?

If it's a trick, it's a damn good one.

Posted by: jcb at June 1, 2006 01:40 PM

The one time the administration actually gets a warrant, and people get more upset than they do about the hundreds of warrantless eavesdropping cases...

This should be a much bigger story, and I don't mean the Justice Department attempting to bring criminals to justice (their job) but the fact that both sides of Congress are recoiling in horror that they aren't above the law. I bet a lot of things were moved out of offices around Capitol Hill in the days following the raid. The fact that it hasn't happened in 200+ years probably just means we have never had a Congress this corrupt before.

Posted by: QuadCityImages at June 1, 2006 02:57 PM

I'm not sure what disturbs me more:

- That Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is willing to push the boundaries of the Consitution as far as possible instead of protecting it; or

- That Congress appears to have no effective means of, and no interest in, policing the actions of its own.

Meanwhile, I'm sure the shredders in the Rayburn Building have been busy. Maybe by next session, enough files will be shred to make it easier to walk around those offices.

Posted by: Huck Finn at June 1, 2006 09:00 PM

I'm surprised you admit how shallow and close-minded you are.

My opinion of Bush has less than nothing to do with the points I bring up about this situation, but apparently you're willing to use my views of Bush as a convenient excuse to discard them and thus not consider them.

Hey, whatever tickles your pickle.

Posted by: TID at June 4, 2006 11:33 PM

TID, whatever...when faced with having to explain in a rational manner your thoughts, you seem to bail.

Regardless of how many 'pickles you want to tickle', the fact is that there was a warrent and this is a 2-branch of government chasing a criminal.

Go chase the second gunman on the grassy-knoll if you want conspiracies.

Posted by: havinfun at June 5, 2006 10:48 AM