|Lawmakers on Capitol Hill finally awake from their post-9/11 stupor, not to protect your civil liberties or mine, nor the Constitutional protections afforded to citizens, protesters and journalists, but to protect their own. That said, members of Congress, led by the possibly under investigaton (or is that "not under investigation?") House Speaker Dennis Hastert and his Democratic counterpart Nancy Pelosi, finally got into the face of the POTUS over the administration's trashing of the separation of powers via Al Gonzales' Saturday FBI raid on the office of Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson. And lo and behold, the president blinked:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush stepped into the Justice Department's constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a congressman's office be sealed for 45 days.
The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general.
Bush's move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of the House and Senate. (Watch Bush intervenes in criminal probe -- 2:08)
"This period will provide both parties more time to resolve the issues in a way that ensures that materials relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation are made available to prosecutors in a manner that respects the interests of a coequal branch of government," Bush said.
In a statement, Bush said he recognized that Republican and Democratic leaders in the House had "deeply held views" that the search on Jefferson's Capitol Hill office violated the Constitution's separation of powers principles. But he stopped short of saying he agreed with them.
And while many pundits on the left and right have shrugged off the Jefferson raid (because many people have written him off as corrupt -- which he very likely is) to me, the Constitutional issue is clear: the executive branch cannot turn the legislative branch into a subordinate that it can sick the FBI on at will. Clearly, this was a bridge too far for members of Congress, many of whom, including possibly Hastert, clearly have self-serving reasons for finally standing up to the president, given that many of them cuold face Abramoff-releated corruption probes of their own that could put them in the crosshairs of an overly muscular Justice Department. They stood up. Bush stood down. It's a first for this administration. Unfortunately, I have no illusions that this signals the dawn of a Congress newly awakened to its Constitutional oversight role, when it comes to our civil liberties, as opposed to theirs.
But a girl can dream.
Tags: William Jefferson, Corruption, Politics, separation of powers, Bush Administration, Constitution, Congress, Dennis Hastert,