A Times Editorial
Published July 12, 2006
Speaker Dennis Hastert says he is driven by constitutional principle to keep the FBI from searching a colleague's U.S. House office. But a federal judge has appropriately mocked his exalted sense of legislative self.
"If there is any threat to the separation of powers here, it is not from the execution of a search warrant by one coequal branch of government upon another," wrote U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in a ruling announced Monday. "Rather, the principle of the separation of powers is threatened by the position that the legislative branch enjoys the unilateral and unreviewable power to invoke an absolute privilege, thus making it immune from the ordinary criminal process of a validly issued search warrant."
In other words, Hastert wants House members to be above the law. Rep. William Jefferson, who was caught in August with $90,000 in cash in his freezer, has obvious motivation to offer such an implausible argument. But why must Hastert continue to stand in Jefferson's corner?
The raid on Jefferson's House office in May was indeed unusual and perhaps unprecedented. But it was not an executive branch shopping excursion. It was the product of a 17-month criminal bribery investigation that already had led to two convictions, had Jefferson on videotape allegedly taking a bribe, and wads of cash in a freezer. The search warrant was authorized by a federal judge who reviewed an 83-page affidavit outlining the need, and the raid was monitored by special "filter teams" to narrow the focus.
Clearly, the circumstances and the manner of the search were extraordinary. Yet Hastert's attorneys are acting like a rogue agent was rifling through legislative notes in the middle of the night. Their amicus brief sounded like Chicken Little: "(This) will reduce Congress to a subordinate branch of government by opening the door to unchecked executive branch overreach and abuse."
Jefferson's attorney says he will appeal the judge's ruling, which is not surprising. But Hastert should take the time to read what the judge wrote. To claim constitutional immunity from a properly authorized criminal search warrant is the height of congressional arrogance. The only principle here is one of personal privilege.
[Last modified July 12, 2006, 05:53:13]
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