May 26, 2006

Hubris, Interrupted

I first saw this story break yesterday:

President Bush ordered the Justice Department yesterday to seal records seized from the Capitol Hill office of a Democratic congressman, representing a remarkable intervention by the nation's chief executive into an ongoing criminal probe of alleged corruption.

The order was aimed at quelling an escalating constitutional confrontation between the Justice Department and the House, where Republican and Democratic leaders have demanded that the FBI return documents and copies of computer files seized from the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.).

In a six-paragraph statement, Bush cast the dispute in historic terms and said he issued the order to give Justice Department officials and lawmakers more time to negotiate a compromise. "Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," Bush said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

The order capped five days of tumultuous negotiations involving the White House, the Justice Department and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who denounced the Saturday-night raid as an infringement on the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches and had joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in demanding that the seized documents be returned.

I resisted the urge to make an immediate comment on this, and instead decided to sleep on it and mull things over. Now that I have, think I like the President's intervention even less.

I first noted on Wednesday and much more qualified experts have confirmed, there is no apparent validity at all to the argument by legislators that they have some sort of Constitutional protection from their offices being searched.

Congressional offices have no special protections under the Fourth Amendment compared to other offices, and the FBI did get a duly sworn search warrant from a federal judge. Nor does the Speech or Debate clause seem to be even an plausible impediment to the execution of a search warrant.

No, the more I look at the President's decision to intercede in this case by impounding the seized documents for a 45-day period, the more I dislike his decision.

There was no compelling legal reason that I can ascertain for the President to intercede in this matter, even though he has the apparent power to do so. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Justice Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation went well beyond the legal standard in their search of Jefferson's Congressional office, perhaps to the point of showing too much deference to his status as a congressman.

No, the "reasoning" here is purely political in nature, as Bush as paused (but not stopped) the investigation so that Denny Hastert and the rest of the Republican leadership can pull their heads out of their collective… well you know.

From this perspective, President Bush overreached, using the power of the Executive to interrupt the Legislative branch's constitutional right to make complete fools of themselves by continuing to exhibit such constitutionally ignorant, publically repellant and arrogant behavior.

The great casualty in Bush's intercession is some much-needed congressional hubris.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 26, 2006 09:02 AM | TrackBack

Great, now we have another group that are above the petty laws that us commoners have to abide by. Don't we bend over for these cretans in DC enough. I like the idea I heard put forward to NOT vote for any incumbent in office. It would disrupt their boys club in short order. Or better yet, how about a National peoples vote to limit terms in Congress.

Posted by: JD at May 26, 2006 09:35 AM

I am COMPLETELY FED UP with ALL politicians--DNC and GOP.

It is PAST TIME to vote every sitting Congressman and Senator OUT OF OFFICE--PERIOD.

Posted by: WB at May 26, 2006 09:40 AM

Bush just bought all these creeps some time to relocate their stashes off shore somewhere beyond the FBI.

The capitol shreaders and incinerators will be running overtime for the next month or so, bank on it.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at May 27, 2006 07:28 AM

No, I think the President made the right call on this one:

Hastert's threat to cut off funding for DOJ, FBI, etc., which was responded to by Gonzales, Meuller and others threatening to resign rather than return documents seized in the lawfully executed and proper search, accelerated this little pi__ing match to crisis proportions. A cooling off period is a good idea.

If some of the info on AJ Strata's and Mac's sites proves accurate, there's a great deal more going on here than one (Jefferson) congressional crook.

I do agree that it's long past time for a thorough House (and Senate) cleaning, but the only way to do that effectively is to find a way to bypass the Party system of candidate selection (and exclusion) and incumbent protection, which keeps good potential candidates out of the races.

About the only idea worse than keeping many of the current Republicans in office, is to replace them with Democrats. That's simply cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

Posted by: Merry Whitney at May 28, 2006 05:17 AM

I agree Purple. It doesn't matter which Representatives have broken the law. Party affiliation is not important in criminal acts. If we want a government which will respond to the peoples will we have to first elect one. So far the ones we have elected have ignored us. The only way to get them to pay attention is to un-elect the ones in charge. And if the next batch dont pay attention we should un-elect them too. Repeat until the message is clear.

Posted by: druidbros at May 29, 2006 07:53 AM

Two years for the house ain't that long. We can do a lot of "repeat as necessary" pretty quickly if they don't get the message.

Senate is tougher, but as a general statement I think the senators are smarter than the reps (and hence more adept at hiding their corruption and/or cloaking it within some sort of legal trappings). Some of the reps are just flat out stupid (a reflection on their constituency) and would never make it through the public triage necessary to become a senator.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at May 29, 2006 10:39 AM

Looks like the esteemed Harry Reid has now joined the "culture of corruption" as a charter (ticket holding) member ;->

Posted by: Purple Avenger at May 29, 2006 10:43 AM