About that so-called "Constitutional crisis" over the F.B.I.'s raid on Democrat U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's office....
It appears the U.S. House of Representatives' legal counsel has been part of the 10-month-and-running battle between the U.S. Justice Department and Jefferson from the start-off, as have several of Jefferson's aides who, like their boss, have refused to respond to Justice Department subpoenas. All of which has landed in court and is being dealt-with---or not-dealt-with---in secret, for the entire case is sealed from public scrutiny.
You can read about this curious situation in an eye-opening updated news article by Byron York here, "The Secret Court Battle Over the Jefferson Corruption Case More has been going on than meets the eye." A few excerpts are below:
"For the last several months, Rep. William Jefferson and lawyers for the House of Representatives have been allied in a secret court battle against the Justice Department arising from corruption allegations against the Louisiana Democrat. The litigation, in federal court, has been conducted under seal; that is, under a court order requiring all sides not to disclose the identity of the case or the actions of both sides.
The existence of the court fight has not been made public before now. And it has not been possible to learn much beyond the simple fact that both sides have been in court. But there are some things we do know.We know that last August, the Justice Department issued a subpoena for documents from Jefferson’s office. We know that Jefferson refused to comply.
We also know that some members of Jefferson’s staff received similar subpoenas and also refused to comply. We know that those staffers refused the Justice Department, in the words of Jefferson’s former chief of staff, “after consultation with the [House] Office of General counsel.”
After that, the litigation began. What has happened is not publicly known, but could include the following scenarios....
Whatever the case, we know that in May the Justice Department, in apparent frustration over delays in the case, decided to go to a judge, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, to seek a warrant to search Jefferson’s Washington, DC office. Hogan approved the search, which took place May 20-21.
In its 95-page request for a warrant to search Jefferson’s office, the Justice Department included a section headlined, 'GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO EXHAUST ALL LESSER INTRUSIVE APPROACHES TO OBTAINING RELEVANT DOCUMENTS AND RECORDS LOCATED IN THE WASHINGTON, D.C. CONGRESSIONAL OFFICE OF WILLIAM J. JEFFERSON.'
That heading was followed by three-blacked out paragraphs apparently explaining those government efforts. And then: 'As a result of the information discussed in the paragraphs immediately above, the government has exhausted all other reasonable methods to obtain these records in a timely manner short of requesting this search warrant.
A member of Congressman Jefferson’s staff has indicated to law enforcement agents that records relevant to the investigation remain in Congressman Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office, which the government has been unable to obtain to date. Left with no other method, the government is proceeding in this fashion.'
Some earlier accounts of the fight between Jefferson and the Justice Department have assumed that, in the months after the August 2005 subpoenas, both sides were in a standoff..., trying to wait the other out. In fact, there has been much more going on behind the scenes. Last week, NRO reported that the battle that was once thought to be between Jefferson and the Justice Department has actually been between Jefferson, the House, and the Justice Department from the beginning. Now, it appears the battle has been going on in court, under seal.
What has happened in that secret court fight could shape public perceptions of the case...'"
(Folks, why this is so hush-hush, I really can't say. But the House of Representatives members are not above the law. They are merely given the right not to be arrested while engaged in speech and debate---and going to and from the House---to conduct the peoples' business. They are not, under any circumstances, given the right to squirrel away secret government-demanded documents in their offices---that may provide evidence of crimes---with immunity from having to respond to U.S. Justice Department federal-court-ordered subpoenas for those documents. There is no such immunity "privilege" for House members in the Constitution, just as there is not for any of their aides.
The court-ordered search was legal and those who refused to honor the court order should be cited for contempt and jailed until they fully cooperate. This is a criminal investigation of serious allegations of violations of federal law and the Justice Department has evidence of Jefferson's acceptance of a $100K bribe caught on tape. Jefferson is an elected U.S. government public official, his office is in U.S. government property, and the U.S. Justice Department is the top law-enforcement entity in the country. And the President, in addition to being the head of the Executive Branch, is the Chief Law Enforcer of the country.
So, why is the House counsel involved in helping fight the Executive Branch, including the Justice Department, and shield Jefferson and his aides? What are they hiding? Were the aides also involved in crimes? Do Jefferson and his aides know something about wrongful activities of others in the House? Are they fighting to keep a big corruption flap from coming out in an election year?
We need answers. And we don't need a 45-day delay of justice. And, ugly as the entire scandal may well be, the House and Jefferson need to stop obstructing and get it out now so the voters will have valid options worthy of their trust in the primaries and in the November, 2006 election.
(Hat tip to Steve Kelley for political 'toon)