After six-plus years of acquiescing to a power greedy White House, Republican leaders in Congress are finally pushing back because, of all things, an FBI raid last weekend on a Democratic legislator's office.
The execution of the search warrant for an all-night search of Rep. William J. Jefferson's office while Congress was in session appears to be unprecedented, if not unconstitutional, but fits the Bush administration's mania for asserting broad executive authority at the expense of Congress and the courts.
Never mind that Jefferson was literally caught cold -- as in $90,000 in bribe money found in his home food freezer back in New Orleans -- and is an obvious partisan target. This time the White House may have gone too far in its penchant for shatting on the separation of powers.
Says House Speaker Dennis Hastert, another overnight convert to the notion enshrined by the Founding Fathers that each branch of government has inviolable powers:
I think those materials ought to be returned and [the FBI agents involved] ought to be frozen out of that case for the sake of the Constitution.Boehner predicted that the case would go to the Supreme Court.
The New York Times noted that
A court challenge would place all three branches of government in the fray over whether the obscure "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution, which offers some legal immunity for lawmakers in the conduct of their official duties, could be interpreted to prohibit a search by the executive branch on Congressional property. . . .
Pursuing a course advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration has sought to establish primacy on domestic and foreign policy, not infrequently keeping much of Congress out of the loop unless forced to consult.
"It is consistent with a unilateral approach to the use of authority in Washington, D.C.," Philip J. Cooper, a professor at Portland State University who has studied the administration's approach to executive power, said of the search.
"This administration," Dr. Cooper said, "has very systematically and from the beginning acted in a way to interpret its executive powers as broadly as possible and to interpret the power of Congress as narrowly as possible as compared to the executive."
Some Republicans agreed privately that the search was in line with what they saw as the philosophy of the Justice Department in the Bush administration. They said the department had often pushed the limits on legal interpretations involving issues like the treatment of terrorism detainees and surveillance.
The Republican pushback is not entirely altruistic.
Several of the party's own lawmakers have looming legal problems of their own because of corruption investigations that led to the convictions of super lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy Cunningham, both of whom are cooling their heels in prison.
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Contitutional issues aside, Jefferson refuses to resign although the evidence against him is overwhelming.
He's a disgrace to his flood-ravaged city, his party and his country. Quit, dammit!