Hastert's retreat

Captain's Quarters:


Until now, Gonzalez has always appeared to be a moderate, get-along-to-go-along political appointee. However, this shows that the AG has serious backbone and integrity to spare. He and Mueller both understood the stakes involved in this standoff and refused to participate in creating a political class insulated from law enforcement. Without the power to enforce and execute duly authorized subpoenas and search warrants, members of Congress could hide evidence of corruption in their offices with no fear of exposure or prosecution. It would create a taxpayer-funded sanctuary for crooks, and the top officials at Justice sent the message that they would not become accessories to that system.

Bush already knew this but wanted Hastert to come to that conclusion on his own, or at least allow Hastert the opportunity to appear to have done so. Before anyone made the kind of bold public gesture Gonzalez threatened, he simply froze the status quo for six weeks, giving time for everyone to reach their own conclusions rather than get embarrassed by a Supreme Court decision that would undoubtedly have painted Hastert and Pelosi as obstructors of justice.

Given this time out for his obstinacy, Hastert and his colleagues have busied themselves with goalpost-moving and backtracking. Before, they claimed a Constitutional privilege of freedom from search warrants and subpoenas from the executive branch, even though Congress regularly issues subpoenas without judicial approval against members of the executive branch. Now Hastert has acknowledged that Congressmen are subject to the same laws as everyone else, but have modified their complaint; now they say the issue is that Jefferson and his attorney were not allowed to be present at the search. That's a far cry from the phony Constitutional crisis they declared earlier this week, perhaps a more reasonable issue and certainly one that didn't require Hastert's intercession. He could have kept his mouth shut and let Jefferson's attorney raise that question when the evidence got submitted for trial -- just like any other defendant in a criminal case.

The denouement of this kerfuffle demonstrates two very important points. George Bush still holds the power in Washington and in the GOP, and this controversy shows that he and the people at Justice remain the adults in charge of the day care center. Hastert has severely damaged himself politically in two ways. No one in the GOP will ever give Hastert the same level of trust again after this attempt to pervert the Constitution, and Republicans will remain furious with him for taking the focus off of William Jefferson and his cash-cow business in selling his vote.

It should not be forgotten that Pelosi was just as complicit as Hastert in this debacle. The House in general has disgraced itself witht his episode.


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