Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Separation of powers is now the watchword.

Rep. James Sensebrenner, (R. WI) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is hopping mad about the FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's (D. LA) Congressional office. He held hearings on the matter today and titled said hearings "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?"

Let me answer the question posed by Sensebrenner in his hearings title. No. But I must admit that if naming conference hearings were some sort of gauge as to the seriousness of the chairman of the committee, no one can now doubt Sensebrenner is highly motivated.

If anything it seems that the Congress now has the impression that Congress critters are sacrosanct from the control of any other branch of government if they simply stay put in the halls of Congress. It reminds me of the game tag I played growing up where there was a safe zone in which a target could not be tagged. If the Congress member simply keeps all their documents in their office on the hill, they never need to worry about those documents being used in a judicial or law enforcement proceeding.

The problem that lead to the FBI raid on Jefferson's office was his unwillingness to comply with a subpoena. This was an ongoing issue. After it was clear that Jefferson held himself above the law in this case (see how long you would stay free on the streets if you simply blatantly ignored a subpoena) the Justice Department gained a warrant. So we see here that the evidence being sought after was twice requested through the judicial branch, with the final request being pre-emptory in nature coming in the form of a warrant, which was served by the FBI.

This hardly constitutes a dictatorial type reach for unconstitutional power by an out of control administration. There are PLENTY of examples of just that type of power grab that Sensebrenner and the Republican rubberstamp stoolies have been more than willing to ignore. One is left to wonder why Sensebrenner is blowing a gasket on the Jefferson search when there is so much other stuff that is worthy of the public wailing and gnashing of teeth...

The answer seems clear to me. If the FBI can get that info from Jefferson's office, they can do it from any other Congress critters office as well. The fact is that the taint of corruption, the truly massive scandalous conduct by the entrenched powers that be, is by and large a Republican affair. Even though Jefferson is a Democrat, the partisan nature of the hue and cry from the hill ought to be obvious to any who care to look at this honestly.

To be honest, I do think that there probably was a bit of partisanship in the zeal of the administration to carry out their law enforcement duties in this case. I imagine the outrage from the Republicans on the hill came as a total shock to the Administration. Duke Cunninghams (R. formerly CA) office never was raided. But the overall principle of the matter is enough in this case for me to excuse the seeming partisanship of the administrations actions in favor of justice, and to set the precedent of how recalcitrant Congress critters will be dealt with going forward.

Barney Frank was spot on in his defense of the FBI on this one while pointing to the inconsistencies of the House leadership. Here are some choice excerpts from his one minute speech on the floor of the House of Representatives:
What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress.


So I think it was a grave error to have criticized the FBI. I think what they did, they ought to be able to do in every case where they can get a warrant from a judge. I think, in particular, for the leadership of this House, which has stood idly by while this administration has ignored the rights of citizens, to then say we have special rights as Members of Congress is wholly inappropriate.
Let's not hold our collective breath waiting for the Republicans to find their voice on the basic constitutional principles involved with the many legitimate examples of overreach by the Bush administration. And let's not be surprised at the uproar from Republicans on the hill over an action that could bring many of them low if successfully allowed as a precedent. What we ought to be surprised about is the knee jerk response by Democratic leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus in rushing to defend one of their own, even when it is clear that Jefferson is a scoundrel and miscreant. It is time for the leadership and the CBC to stand up and prove that all the hot air about culture of corruption and so on is not just wasted energy. After all, what better opportunity is there to prove the honesty of your belief, than when it affects someone who's on "your side".

We should watch very closely who comes to the aid of these criminals. They are probably dirty themselves.
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