May 24, 2006
This past Saturday, FBI agents bearing a signed search warrant signed by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan entered the Congressional Offices of Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana in pursuit of evidence in a felony bribery case. The warrant was granted after an affidavit was filed that stated agents recovered $90,000 in bribery payments from a freezer in his home, and in light of the fact that Jefferson refused to comply with a subpoena for documents last year.
Showing abject ignorance of the applicable law and more than a little arrogance, Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert demanded that the document seized in the raid should be returned, and the FBI agents involved in the raid, "ought to be frozen out of that (case) for the sake of the Constitution."
As you might expect, the NY Times is having a field day:
After years of quietly acceding to the Bush administration's assertions of executive power, the Republican-led Congress hit a limit this weekend.
Resentment boiled among senior Republicans for a second day on Tuesday after a team of warrant-bearing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned up at a closed House office building on Saturday evening, demanded entry to the office of a lawmaker and spent the night going through his files.
The episode prompted cries of constitutional foul from Republicans — even though the lawmaker in question, Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, is a Democrat whose involvement in a bribery case has made him an obvious partisan political target.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert raised the issue personally with President Bush on Tuesday. The Senate Rules Committee is examining the episode.
Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, predicted that the separation-of-powers conflict would go to the Supreme Court. "I have to believe at the end of the day it is going to end up across the street," Mr. Boehner told reporters gathered in his conference room, which looks out on the Capitol plaza and the court building.
A court challenge would place all three branches of government in the fray over whether the obscure "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution, which offers some legal immunity for lawmakers in the conduct of their official duties, could be interpreted to prohibit a search by the executive branch on Congressional property.
A "separation of powers" conflict? Do either Hastert or Boehner or anyone else protesting the execution of this search warrant, have even the slightest reading comprehension? Folks, it isn't that hard.
Congressional office have any special protections from search warrants, as noted by White Collar Crime Prof Blog:
The Fourth Amendment does not afford any specific protection to legislative offices so long as there is probable cause to believe that there is evidence of criminal activity at the location specified, and the House of Representatives would not have standing to raise a Fourth Amendment claim on its own.
Thus, Jefferson's Office has no special immunity, or "specific protection," and the FBI had enough evidence to obtain a search warrant from District Court Judge Hogan.
Hastert seems to base his claims on his understanding of the Constitution—proving for once and for all that he understands it about has much as you might expect a former high school wrestling coach would.
Section Six of Article I of the U.S. Constitution clearly and unambiguously states:
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
One does not need to graduate from a top flight law school to easily discern in the passage above that the commission of a felony is specifically cited as one of three exemptions from the privilege from arrest. The charges being pursued against Jefferson are indeed felony charges.
The "speech and debate" clause only applies to a Congressman's official duties, and if Hastert, Boehner and other congressmen think that accepting bribes is part of their official duties, then perhaps we need more search warrants executed on Congressional offices, not fewer.
A "culture of corruption" indeed exists in Washington, and this corruption manifests itself in the very souls of Congressmen who are so arrogant as to believe their offices are some sort of sanctuary from the law.