May 23, 2006

On William Jefferson and Office Searches

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Left: Rep. William Jefferson speaking to reporters

(Washington, DC) The disclosure that Louisiana congressman William Jefferson was videotaped accepting a purported $100,000 bribe was another disheartening moment for Americans already distrustful of their leaders. Still more damning to Jefferson was the alleged recovery of $90,000 in cash from his freezer.

I find it difficult to envision a scenario in which Jefferson can satisfactorily explain this in either a court of law or that of public opinion, but perhaps one does indeed exist.

"There are two sides to every story; there are certainly two sides to this story," he said at a recent news conference. "There will be an appropriate time and forum when that can be explained."

A new issue, however, arose on Sunday as FBI investigators raided Jefferson's space in the Rayburn House Office Building. This move appears to be without precedent, and raises troubling issues about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

On the surface it appears that little could be gained from searching Jefferson's office; surely a videotape and seized cash are strong pieces of evidence if and when this case goes to trial. Some Beltway speculation argues that the office raid was merely an attempt to put more pressure on Jefferson to accept a plea and avoid a costly, embarassing trial.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle were quick to question the unprecedented raid. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) called the move an "overreaching and abuse of power by the Executive Branch," while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that "Justice Department investigations must be conducted in accordance with Constitutional protections and historical precedent."

Both politicians are correct.

This raid should be interpreted as a metaphor of the Bush administration's arrogant lack of regard for legal precedent and constitutional law. The thinking in the White House and the Justice Department seems to be that whenever a law or precedent gets in the way of a larger goal, it can be bypassed.

If Jefferson is guilty of corruption, he should be tried in a court of law and sentenced to the appropriate punishment. Those who trade the public good for thirty pieces of silver deserve our scorn.

The Justice Department, though, should be the one government agency most dedicated to upholding the laws it is supposed to be enforcing, as it is a very symbol of the rule of law.

17 comments:

-Sepp said...

Kind of hard to look innocent when you are on tape screwing up. And, we all keep money in our freezers. COLD cash has a new meaning.

Brian said...

I smell a Culture of Corruption in the Democratic Party. Throw in Rep. Allan Mollahan of Wet Virginia who actually had a seat on the ethics committee and the Democrats in DC stink to high Hell.

Mollohan had the temerity to delay the work of the ethics committee while committing his own violations.

If Republicans play their politics right (and that's a big if), they will neutalize ethics as a campaign issue.

Given that the Democrats have no platform, no positions on any issues of substance, and no moral or political direction, the political tide could turn for congressional GOPers.

historymike said...

Agreed that he looks guilty, although I will reserve judgment until a court verdict is handed down.

I agree also with Brian that the Democrats will need a lot more than "we are less corrupt than the GOP" to win back voters.

They claim that they will wait until closer to the election before releasing their platform, much like the 1994 Republicans did with the "Contract with America," who dropped the document on the country six weeks before the election.

Regardless of one's beliefs about the merits (or lack thereof) about the "Contract," it was a masterful political stroke, and the Dems are still trying to recover from it.

dusty said...

I read that the serial numbers on the freezer cash matched those of the bribe cash.What a maroon..he didn't move the cash offshore,he needs to talk to his republican brethen for guidance on bribery :P

The score so far is: Repubes 5 Democraps 1

Michael said...

What is the big deal for searching Jefferson's D.C. office in the House building? That's where he works (at least while in D.C.) and I assume a search warrant was used. So, it had to have been approved by a judge. Which means there was just cause.

Don't blow this up to more than it is. A sting operation where Jefferson was caught. And, the FBI duing it's job. Regardless of political implacations.
Mike

Rodney said...

As a search warrant was issued, I see no reason for controversy. Or are congressmen immune from search warrants?

I agree, this case neutralizes much of the democrats high ground after DeLay, Cunningham, et al.

historymike said...

Technically there is no "law" prohibiting this, but there is the established precedent of 219 years of legal separation between the branches of government.

I am curious - why is Jefferson singled out to break this precedent, and not any of the other presumed crooks in Congress?

It also strikes me as odd that, given what appears to be pretty damning evidence, they would even NEED to search his office.

Kate said...

You know he might be innocent...don't you guys all keep 90k backup cash in your freezers?

blink - blink

Well dontcha?

Anonymous said...

At least A Republican would be smart enough to hide it in his toilet tank. Nobody ever looks there. That's where I keep my extra $90,000

I have to agree that the Justice Department has overstepped their bounds here. That is a characteristic of the Justice Department no matter which party is in control.

M A F said...

This case/investigation is nearly a year old, and if not for the scandal prone nature of the Republican party needing a story to take the spot light off them, it doesn't hurt to have some high profile coverage of a Democrat being investigated on charges of corruption.

Of course, the FBI entering and searching Jefferson's office brought cries of concern from Democrats and Republicans alike about the encroachment of the executive upon the legislature. The secondary story grew to become as important as the initial story, if not moreso.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Mike,
”A new issue, however, arose on Sunday as FBI investigators raided Jefferson's space in the Rayburn House Office Building. This move appears to be without precedent, and raises troubling issues about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.”

How so? To me it is gathering evidence (with a warrant) that proves (matching serial numbers) where the money came from.


”Technically there is no "law" prohibiting this, but there is the established precedent of 219 years of legal separation between the branches of government.”

If it has never been done before (or, yet), does THAT make it a precedent? And this lame “legal separation between the branches of government” sounds like someone is trying to say that each branch of government is IMMUNE from the other two. What an ODD concept…


”I am curious - why is Jefferson singled out to break this precedent, and not any of the other presumed crooks in Congress?:

Isn’t the first perp always “singled out,” until the next perp is busted?


”It also strikes me as odd that, given what appears to be pretty damning evidence, they would even NEED to search his office.”

I'm guessing maybe to secure corroborating evidence and to clinch their case???

I believe this used to be called good police work. . .


However, YMMV.

Dariush said...

It's pretty obvious that, protestations aside, the Democrats (with notable exceptions) are a corrupt party.

Perhaps not as corrupt as the Republicans in recent years (especially since so much is now known of the Abramoff affair), but corrupt nevertheless.

I kinda miss Ross Perot. I really miss Harry Browne, but he was just far too honest and principled to really "make it" as a politician.

Thank God for Ron Paul.

Lloyd said...

I am beginning to further understand the Constitutional issues presented in this case, but my initial instinct was "what right of privacy do public officials deserve, they work for us, don't they?"

Brian said...

It's not a right to privacy isssue. It is a separation of powers issue.

The Justice Department is an arm of the executive branch. They can not be allowed to run roughshod over the legislative branch.

What would you think if the Sgt. of Arms of the House entered Karl Rove's office and took a bunch of papers for a congressional investigation. It's nearly the same principle.

Yes, the matter is a criminal investigation, but that's because only the exectutive branch can conduct a criminal investigation.

I don't think President Bush owes the corrupt congressman an apology. But I do think he owes Hastert and Pelosi an apology and a promise that such a thing will never happen again.

I also think admitting to something and apologizing for it might give him a bump in the polls.

Kate said...

It may be this was just the first time anybody was stupid enough to keep the cash in their office?

Maybe no more and no less to it than that.

But how much more of an ironclad case can there be? On tape - 90k in his freezer (still can't get over that) and now they found bills in his office w/matching serialz. ??

I doubt there's much risk to the other offices - they had a warrant and they found what they were after. I'm glad they did it.

Now if they ever go in one of those offices - do NOT find what's listed on the warrant they'd better not touch anything else.

Peahippo said...

What's the problem here?

Congressmen are immune from arrest while they are on the floor of the Congress. Other than that, they are subject to the law (well, all the laws they didn't exempt themselves from).

The DOJ didn't just barge into the office on their own. They obtained a search warrant ... which is obtained from a court, hence the Judicial Branch.

I'm really trying hard to see what the problem is, here. A Congressmen is not immune to a criminal investigation. Jefferson was caught on tape accepting or arranging a bribe. A warrant-ed home search found most of the cash involved. "Probable cause" has been WELL ESTABLISHED.

There is NO concern here whatsoever of an abuse of seperation of powers between government branches. This is a criminal investigation, and the suspect just happens to be a Congressman. Once he leaves the floor of the Congress, he's fair game, and both Executive and Judicial Branches can follow their well-established procedures for pursuing the investigation.

Other Republican Congressmen have been investigated, too, for a variety of offenses. Hence, Jefferson's problem also doesn't seem partisan.

So, again, what's the problem here? The police and prosecutors are in the evidentiary phase. Once they've collected enough and have thought it all out, they'll probably indict and then proceed to prosecution.

historymike said...

In some ways, peahippo, I am a strict constitutionalist, and I have been critical of the rise of the imperial presidency.

Prior to the 20th century presidents were largely ceremonial, and Congress wielded the power. This is in keeping with our tadition as a democratic republic.

(I am setting aside Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, who were exceptions to the rule of weak presidents).

I look to Theodore Roosevelt as the beginning of a wave of Presidents who steadily usurped power away from Congress.

The closest we have been to a backlash was in the first few years after Watergate, when Congress began to show a little backbone.

However, since Ronald Reagan the Presidency has become an ever more imperial position. Executive decrees are more often than not taking the place of actual Congressional legislation.

I am 100% behind the idea of rooting out crooked politicians, as William Jefferson seems to be, but I am leery of precedent-setting power grabs by the Executive branch.

I recognize, though, that I am a lonely voice shouting back at a gale-force wind on this one...