Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hastert Comments on William Jefferson

When I initially read the story about the videotaped bribery of Rep William Jefferson (D, LA) my initial thought was, another crook, Dem or Repub, they are all tainted.

A search warrant executed on his home, no problem.

Then I read that Alberto Gonzales (Of the executive branch) authorized a warrant on his congressional office. I first must admit that I gave no thought to it, until I read this on newshounds. At first I saw no issue with it, but then realized that this action went against the separation of powers outlined by our founding fathers, in particular, those designed to limit the power of the executive branch. In other words, we don't want a KING!

Statement by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert

"It is the duty of the Justice Department to root out and prosecute corruption wherever it is found, including in the U.S. House of Representatives. I believe that all Members of the House should cooperate fully with any criminal investigation.

"That being said, I am very concerned about the necessity of a Saturday night raid on Congressman Jefferson's Capitol Hill Office in pursuit of information that was already under subpoena and at a time when those subpoenas are still pending and all the documents that have been subpoenaed were being preserved.

"The Founding Fathers were very careful to establish in the Constitution a Separation of Powers to protect Americans against the tyranny of any one branch of government. They were particularly concerned about limiting the power of the Executive Branch. Every Congressional Office contains certain Legislative Branch documents that are protected by the Constitution. This protection-as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held-is essential to guarantee the independence of the Legislative Branch. No matter how routine and non-controversial any individual Legislative Branch document might be, the principles of Separation of Powers, the independence of the Legislative Branch, and the protections afforded by the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution must be respected in order to prevent overreaching and abuse of power by the Executive Branch.

"While all the facts surrounding Saturday night's raid have not yet been shared with me, it would appear that the Attorney General himself was aware that Separation of Powers concerns existed and that the Justice Department was treading on Constitutionally suspect grounds because in seeking the warrant the FBI suggested to the judge special procedures it would follow to deal with Constitutionally protected materials. However, it is not at all clear to me that it would even be possible to create special procedures that would overcome the Constitutional problems that the execution of this warrant has created.

"The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case. Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress. Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years.

"Once I have more information about this raid made available to me, I have had an opportunity to carefully consider the long-term ramifications for the Legislative Branch of this action, and I have consulted with the appropriate bipartisan leaders of the House, I expect to seek a means to restore the delicate balance of power among the branches of government that the Founders intended."


Alberto Gonzalez' response (from the Kansas City Star):

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked about the search, said he understands the concerns raised about FBI agents raiding a congressional office.

"'I will admit that these were unusual steps that were taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances,' Gonzales said.

"The search warrant affidavit spells out special procedures put in place to ensure the search did not infringe on privileged material. The procedures include use of a 'filter team' of prosecutors and FBI agents unconnected to the investigation. They would review any seized items or documents and determine whether the documents are privileged and therefore immune from the search warrant.

"If the status of a document is in doubt, the filter team will give the documents to a judge for a definitive ruling before giving them to case prosecutors, according to the affidavit.

Hastert said those protections may not be enough.

"'It is not at all clear to me that it would even be possible to create special procedures that would overcome the Constitutional problems that the execution of this warrant has created,' he said.

"Jefferson has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, but two of his associates have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

"The House Ethics Committee has opened an inquiry into the case."

Probably on Jefferson. It SHOULD be on Gonzalez and King George.

To me, the scary parts of this action are:

  1. The precendent it sets, particularly chilling in light of the other abuses of power taken by this administration and the support of a more powerful executive branch espoused by Gonzalez.
  2. The message sent by this action, "don't F--K with us or we'll get you".
  3. The continued failure of oversight executed by the legislative branch, and now apparently the judicial as well.

Maybe this will wake up some Republicans as well. We can only hope.

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