The Democratic Steering Committee looks headed towards stripping Rep. [sw: William Jefferson] (D-LA) of his perch on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. The Congressional Black Caucus voted again to back Jefferson's continued stay on the Committee at least until an indictment is filed. The CBC has opposed the Democratic Caucus taking any action against Jefferson until he has been formally indicted. Two of the most powerful CBC members, [sw: Charlie Rangel](D-NY) and [sw: James Clyburn] (D-SC), have remained quiet so far.
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports that the FBI was prepared to pick the lock of Jefferson's congressional office if the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief refused to open it. Leaders in the House want the raid to be ruled unconstitutional.
- The San Diego Union Tribune looks at San Diego Rep. [sw: Duncan Hunter] (R-CA) and the campaign contributions that he has received from a certain lobbyist with a shady past (read: convicted criminal). "King of Pork" [sw: Hal Rogers] (R-KY) also pops up in the story.
- Rep. [sw: Bob Ney] (R-OH) has a new excuse for going on an all-expenses paid trip to Scotland with Jack Abramoff and friends. His spokesman is saying that he certainly didn't go to play golf because Ney hates golf as much as he hates "an all-night conference committee meeting on an arcane tax issue." He hates dealing with arcane tax issues, good thing he's not in government. Wait a second...!
- Justin Rood reports that David Safavian implicated himself in court today... As a complete and total idiot.
"Did you think you were qualified for the job?" Zeidenberg asked. "Probably not, actually," Safavian said. "Are you intelligent enough to do the job?" Zeidenberg followed up. Safavian gave an extensive pause. "I suppose so."
- Roll Call reports that members of the House and Justice Department officials are scheduled to sit down and hash out issues relating to the raid on Rep. [sw: William Jefferson]'s (D-LA) office and "begin negotiations on a set of procedures for dealing with possible future search warrants for Congressional offices." Meanwhile, House lawyers will file a brief in federal court claiming that the raid was unconstitutional. Continue reading
Legal But Unsettling:
The New York Times today confirmed that it was legal and constitutional for the Justice Department to raid the congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), but that it "unsettled widely shared understandings of constitutional relationships and freedoms that have existed for generations."
In the search case, there is broad academic consensus that the constitutional protection for Congressional speech and debate does not extend to evidence of criminal conduct, even if it is in a Congressional office. That means the Justice Department was probably entitled to seek — and a federal judge probably correct in authorizing — a warrant to search the offices of Representative William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, notwithstanding objections by leaders of Congress. But having the legal power to conduct a search of another branch of government does not mean it is a wise or prudent thing to do. No other administration has ever done it. In ordering a 45-day cooling-off period, during which the solicitor general will hold the seized materials, President Bush seemed to allow time for reflection on the difference between what the executive branch may do and what it should do.It is certainly true that this raid is not something that should be a regular occurance and I have always, in supporting the raid, thought that this was a particularly unique circumstance. Jefferson was clearly uncooperative in the investigation and was also determined to be untrustworthy, as demonstrated by the allegations that he attempted to remove documents in a blue bag during the search of his New Orleans home. Raids on congressional offices certainly should not become a regular occurance in Washington, but neither should members like Jefferson become a regular occurance. The executive and Congress need to sit down and hash this out and come up with a workable proceedure so that the confusion and bitter attacks that came after the raid does not have to happen again. Then the Congress needs to get back to enforcing its own ethics rules and drop the current motto of "what happens in Congress, stays in Congress." In the end, Congress is the one to blame because they did not police their own membership -- they failed in their constitutional responsibility and left the FBI and Justice to do what they refused to. And finally to put this in perspective here is an article that I read over at John Cole's Balloon Juice:
Police may enter Californians’ homes without warrants to arrest those suspected of driving under the influence, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case testing the scope of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. ... Under the Fourth Amendment, authorities are prohibited from entering a home and making an arrest without a warrant unless so-called “exigent” circumstances are present. Those include “hot pursuit” of a fleeing felon, imminent destruction of evidence and the risk of danger to the police or other persons inside or outside of a house, among others. In this case, Justice Marvin Baxter wrote that the loss of evidence at issue was obtaining a measurement of the suspect’s blood-alcohol level. Baxter added that a contrary ruling would allow “the corruption of evidence that occurs when the suspect takes advantage of any delay to ingest more alcohol—or to claim to have done so—or when the suspect evades police capture until he or she is no longer intoxicated.”Citizens don't always get to have a warrant served on them and don't always get the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Members should not get their own personal Cayman Islands Holding Corporations in an office building at Independence Ave and 1st Street. Continue reading
Justice Gives Ground on Jefferson Docs:
The Justice Department is willing to give Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) the opportunity to view the documents that the FBI took in a late night raid on his office. According to the Los Angeles Times, Jefferson would get access to all of the seized documents and "would then be given an opportunity to raise objections about whether individual documents were properly seized." A judge would settle whether or not Jefferson's objections were valid.Continue reading
Justice Responds; Jefferson Hid Papers:
The Justice Department responded today to the fierce reaction by Congress against the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office. Apparently the Justice Department investigators could not trust Jefferson to hand over documents because he had previously hid them from federal agents. Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker explains:
But beyond the legal argumentation, prosecutors supply the most detailed version of their case against him so far. And they explain why it is that they needed to raid his office - because they don't trust him to turn over evidence. According to an FBI agent's affidavit appended to the filing, Jefferson tried to "surreptitiously remove" documents while the FBI was searching his home in August of last year.Jefferson took documents and hid them in a blue bag that had already been searched. An FBI agent observed his actions and explained them in the affidavit. The Washington Post provides more information on what Jefferson is alleged to have done:
"After a copy had been brought to him and he reviewed it, I observed Congressman Jefferson then take the subpoena and the documents he had been reading earlier and place them together under his elbow on the kitchen table." At one point, she said, he moved to the living room, which had just been searched, and sat on a recliner. While sitting, he slipped the subpoena and the documents into a blue bag that he knew had already been searched, Kent's affidavit said. "After several minutes, I approached Congressman Jefferson and told him that I needed to look at the documents that he had placed into the bag," the agent stated. "Congressman Jefferson told me the documents were subpoenas." He finally pulled out the documents that were from a B.K. Son. The search warrant had asked for all communications between Jefferson and Son, the affidavit said. Son is the chief technology officer of iGate. If this is true it is unbelievably shocking behavior by a member of Congress. This ranks up there with Duke Cunningham's bribe menu as the most offensive and ugly thing a member could do. Beyond that, the issuance of this affidavit shows that the Justice Department is not playing around and that they are clearly dealing with a man who could use the privacy of his congressional office to hide information relevant to the investigation. Continue reading
Jefferson Raid Controversy Continues:
The controversy over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office continued today despite efforts by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) to put it to rest over the weekend. Frist, who was on "Fox New Sunday", stated about the FBI, "I don't think it abused separation of powers ... I think there's allegations of criminal activity, and the American people need to have the law enforced." House Judiciary Committee James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) feels differently and today he held a hearing titled "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?" Sensenbrenner and the ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) agreed that the raid was out of bounds with the chairman saying, "It is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch." Conyers stated, "We've never learned why the member in question was not permitted to have his attorneys present while his offices were searched for some 18 hours."
Personally, I believe that this was an extraordinary case, but was not conducted "out of bounds". The affidavit against Jefferson was unbelievably detailed, showing an almost unparalleled level of corruption by an elected official. The FBI was carrying out a legally obtained warrant to search Jefferson's office in relation to activities that did not include any legislative action nor any activity directly related to his elected role. I don't think that members can live above the law just because they have been chosen by the people of their district or state to represent them. That is essentially the argument of people who are against the raid: that members may operate their congressional office as though it were a Cayman Islands bank account (hat tip to Bill Allison). This is what Josh Marshall is getting at when he states his support of the raid:
If the Feds can raid a congressman's house, it's not clear to me why they can't raid his office. Sure, there's some room for prudential restraint and a respect for comity. But if the DOJ can't search a congressman's office, then the power to investigate and prosecute close to falls apart since that creates a safe harbor for incriminating information. Any serious claim that the functioning of Congress falls outside the bounds of the DOJ would apply to acts as well as work product. And that means that any bribery prosecution is impossible since official acts are an element of the crime.Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) makes the same point in issuing his support for the raid and surprise at the bipartisan reaction against the raid:
I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.If you want to read a selection of arguments made by law professors Josh has a number of links here (pro and con). Continue reading
Hastert Slammed by Conservatives, Says He’ll Cooperate With Justice:
The Associated Press reports that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will put the tussle between Congress and the Justice Department over the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office "in the past" and work to "set up guidelines for the FBI to review materials it seized from a lawmaker's office and any other searches of Congress' offices." This occured after Hastert took direct criticism from conservatives in his party over his reaction over the raid of a Democrat's office. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Hastert "politically tone-deaf" and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) stated, "Only thing I can figure is that Denny got up one morning and said, 'Our approval with the public is at 27 percent -- how can I drive that down further?'"Continue reading
Bush Orders Jefferson Docs Sealed:
President Bush has stepped into the roiling feud between Congress and the Justice Department over the FBI's weekend raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office and ordered the FBI to seal the documents for 45 days. According to the Associated Press:
The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general. Bush's move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of the House and Senate. ... "Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," the president said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."This whole FBI raid has thrown everybody in Washington off script. It's bizarre, but at the same time kind of refreshing to see politicians react to something that they didn't already have a pre-scripted reaction to. I would love to have a fly on the wall when Bush and his aides discussed sealing the documents. What did Congress threaten them with? Instapundit wonders, "Could Al Qaeda have slipped mind-altering drugs into the DC water supply? What's gotten into these people? Or has some sort of deal been cut?" Since I haven't seen any UFOs split the sky like a sheet today I would have to go with his latter hunch. Continue reading
- Conservatives are in revolt against their own party as they battle over earmarks and pet projects in an attempt to reassert fiscal discipline, a concept that seems to have been thrown out the window since 2001.
- The trial of David Safavian began yesterday with prosecutors arguing that Safavian broke the law and Safavian's defense claiming that the prosecution brought the case just because Safavian was friends with Jack Abramoff. Justin Rood went and watched the court room proceedings and found it incredibly boring to listen to a case that was basically just about golf.
- Some members of Congress are not ready to assail the Justice Department for its search of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office for fears that it would give the public an even worse perception of Congress. Can the public have an even worse perspective of Congress? What is their approval rating, 7% or something? In actuality it's 27%, which is insanely low. People do not like you guys.
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) public move to push Jefferson off of the Ways and Means Committee has caused the Congressional Black Caucus to go into open revolt against the Democratic Leadership, according to The Hill.
- And finally, Dennis Hastert (R-IL) may sue ABC for libel over their story that is under investigation by the Justice Department in connection to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Let me tell you something Dennis, in this country, you can't really win a libel suit. It's basically impossible. Trust me.
Pelosi Calls on Jefferson to Resign Committee, He Refuses:
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publicly asked the embattled Democrat William Jefferson (D-LA) to resign from his post on the House Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson refused her request and will remain on the Committee. It's been pretty clear for a little while that the Democratic leadership would just love to cut Jefferson loose but due to ongoing feuds with the Congressional Black Caucus, which supports Jefferson, it cannot. Jefferson isn't going anywhere unless the CBC cuts him loose. My only guess is that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are trying to do whatever they can to get the CBC to side with them against Jefferson. Meanwhile the conservative blogosphere is outraged at the House Republican reaction to the FBI raid and what they perceive to be a missed opportunity to highlight Democratic hypocrisy on their "culture of corruption" meme. John Podheretz calls Hastert a "blithering idiot"; Ed Morrisey says, "Hastert and Boehner do not argue against an imperial presidency, but rather they are arguing for an untouchable political elite, where our elected officials risk nothing by taking bribes and selling their votes to the highest bidder"; streiff at RedState titles a post bemoaning Hastert's statements: "I Give Up".Continue reading