Friday May 26, 2006
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Republicans and Democrats in the House have their Congressional knickers in a Constitutional twist over the notion that the doctrine of "separation of powers" was fused by the FBI when they searched Congressman William Jefferson's (D-La) House office Saturday night.
The FBI had previously videotaped Jefferson taking $100,000 in cash from an informant then got a warrant to search his house where they found 90 grand of it hidden in a freezer.
Two of Jefferson's former aides have already pleaded guilty to bribery - of Congressman Jefferson.
The videotaping of the payoff was done at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia which is the same hotel at which Linda Tripp audio taped a conversation with Monica Lewinsky at the behest of Ken Starr.
TEACHING POINT: If you are preparing to do something illegal and the person with whom you are conspiring suggests you do the deal at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington … Don't.
The FBI has permanent camera positions and microphone locations there.
In their "separation of powers" claim, the House leaders are making it sound as if this was done solely on the say-so of the Justice Department. In fact, the FBI (Executive Branch) had a warrant to search a Congressman's office (Legislative Branch) which was signed by a Federal judge (Judicial Branch).
Speaker Dennis Hastert is claiming the sanctity of Jefferson's office was violated because a Congressional offices are protected by what is known as the "speech and debate clause" in the Constitution.
According to Article I section 6:
Senators and Representatives … shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest … and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
Careful readers will note that the actual Constitutional language is speech OR debate.
So sue me.
The Supreme Court has found - without much trouble - that taking a bribe to perform an official act is not protected under the speech OR debate clause. According to the Cornell University Law School's discussion:
It is the fact of having taken a bribe, not the act the bribe is intended to influence, which is the subject of the prosecution and the speech-or-debate clause interposes no obstacle to this type of prosecution.
Congressional complaints about the "raid" by the FBI make it sound as if this was a black bag job. To the contrary, it appears that:
The Feds alerted the Capitol Police by perhaps as much as an hour prior to showing up on their doorstep.
The cops called House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, who called the Speakers' legal counsel, Ted VanDerMeid.
The FBI showed up with badges, paperwork and whatever they would have needed to open the locked office door at 2113 Rayburn.
(Someone in the House hierarchy had a spare key so there was, unfortunately, no need for a repeat of the Battering-Ram-Against-The-Church-Door scene from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.)
VanDerMeid called the Speaker's chief of staff Scott Palmer who, by midnight, was on the phone to the Executive Branch representing the concerns of the Legislative Branch.
As of this writing, it is not clear when Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi became aware of all the activity.
Fifteen hours after it began, the search was done.
According to the Associated Press, in the early 1990s the FBI got a warrant to search the chambers of a Federal judge also from Louisiana, also on a bribery charge.
There is no record of any Member of Congress protesting that action.
Nancy Pelosi - desperately trying to get traction on Republican "culture of corruption" as a campaign issue - asked Jefferson to voluntarily step down from his post on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Jefferson said, in effect: "Nah."
Crying bayou-crocodile tears over the search of Jefferson's office puts Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi in the uncomfortable position of appearing to defend a perfectly despicable Member of Congress.
On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to CNN's coverage of the Jefferson case, and to the Cornell University Law page; the first in a new series of Mullfotos, and an excellent Catchy Caption of the Day.
Copyright © 2006 Richard A. Galen
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