Who is trampling on the Constitution
Later today, the Republican-led Congress is scheduled to raise to new heights of hysteria and arrogance its protest against the FBI’s search of the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D., La.). But as House Judiciary Chairman James F. Sensenbrenner (R., Wi.) prepares what promises to be a contentious hearing—breathlessly titled, “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”—we should note with gratitude that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and FBI Director Robert Mueller have just enjoyed their finest hours.There is much more. McCarthy eviserates the weak arguments of the congressional leadership. You would think that before holding hearings Congress would at least make a rational argument in support of their position. So far they have been totally unpersuasive. The speech and debate clause they rely on specifically excepts felonious conduct, and the evidence of Jefferson's violation of felony statutes is substantial at this point.
As leaders of agencies whose best traditions lie in apolitical, non-partisan law enforcement, all three were apparently prepared to do what the hierarchy of the Justice Department and the FBI must always be prepared to do if the rule of law, so vital to our nation’s prosperity, is to thrive. They were ready to resign over a matter of high principle.
According to several media reports (see here, here and here), the trio threatened to step down rather than carry out any presidential order to return the evidence that was lawfully seized from Jefferson’s office pursuant to a search warrant. Congressional leaders have been foot-stomping for just such an order. In the end, President Bush declined (although he did direct a face-saving, 45-day cooling-off period, during which the evidence will remain sealed and Congress, one hopes, will step back from the suicidal brink). Thus, justice may yet triumph over power politics.
Despite overwhelming evidence that Jefferson has disgraced their institution by prostituting his office for piles of cash, top legislators from both parties have rallied to his defense. They say they are defending a principle. In fact, they are perverting a privilege.