Sunday, May 21, 2006


"First" of the Day

On May 20, 2006,

Saturday marked the first time the FBI has ever searched a congressman's Capitol Hill office.CNN report of the search of Rep. William Jefferson's office in the Rayburn Office Building.

So Rep. Jefferson (Democrat - Louisiana) is the first Congressman in American history accused of a crime of which a search of his office would aid the investigation and for which there was reasonable cause to search! Or ...

I have no sympathy for Rep. Jefferson if he's guilty of the bribery charges (and since one of the bribers has just pled guilty to bestowing $400,000 worth of goodies upon Rep. Jefferson, it's hard to suppose that he isn't.) But this story has suddenly become much bigger than Congressman Jefferson's guilt or innocence. That is the little picture.

The big picture has two aspects. First, it is no harder to believe in Jefferson's innocence than to believe that this extraordinary search of a Congressman's office occurred for any other reason than that Jefferson is a Democrat. The Republicans are so up to their ears in excrement that any news of a Democrat that takes their own sorry behavior off the front page, however momentarily, is worth a pact with the Devil, or even Karl Rove.

And the pact? Such a groundbreaking intrusion into the premises of the Legislative Branch by the Executive Branch must surely have had the foreknowledge and consent of the Republican leadership. Rove might have held up the vision of Democratic embarrassment if Republican Congressional leaders would turn a blind eye to the broader institutional issues raised by the search. Tradition be damned! We have Democrats to fry! Have you ever seen "conservatives" for whom tradition means so little?

I hope that's what happened. I really do. Because, on the other hand ... what if the Congressional Republicans didn't know? What if there were no behind-the-scenes permission given at all, no tacit consent?

That a judge signed the search warrant is not important. What is important is that the Justice Department asked for one. Have there been other requests to search offices of the Congress that were rejected by a judge? Or that were granted but not acted upon? Or was this request for a warrant to search a Congressman's office a "first" as well?

The power of the Executive Branch, checked only slightly by the Court, has completely overwhelmed the Congress, which this search epitomizes. And not only has the Congress been unwilling to fight for itself as an institution, it has been stripping power from the Court and handing it to the Executive Branch—the Attorney General, the Justice Department, Homeland Security and ultimately the President.

I do not know how anyone could interpret this search other than as a show of Executive power. It appears from what has leaked from the search warrant documents that there is plenty of evidence against Jefferson without this intrusion.1 Congressman Jefferson can't be the only politician on Capitol Hill with something, maybe, to hide. It should begin to occur to them just how vulnerable they are to the whims of the Justice Department. If it hasn't, this search should have focused their minds.

If the old Democratic Speaker of the House "Tip" O'Neill from Massachusetts were still around, I don't believe there would have been a search of a Congressional office without the consent of the House. And if the White House had insisted on a search without one, Tip might have passed a resolution to send the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police to search the White House.

Related posts
The Tennessee Waltz: FBI cleans up Democrats (5/28/05)
Rhetorical Question of the Day (4/28/06)



1According to the AP (per the Washington Post), Jefferson's attorney protested—

"There were no exigent circumstances necessitating this action. The government knew that the documents were being appropriately preserved while proper procedures were being followed. We are dismayed by this action. The documents weren't going anywhere and the prosecutors knew it."

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