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.