Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Now They Care

All of a sudden the House Republicans actually care about the rule of law and violation of privacy…when they see that it can happen to one of their own.

Resentment boiled among senior Republicans for a second day on Tuesday after a team of warrant-bearing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned up at a closed House office building on Saturday evening, demanded entry to the office of a lawmaker and spent the night going through his files.

The episode prompted cries of constitutional foul from Republicans — even though the lawmaker in question, Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, is a Democrat whose involvement in a bribery case has made him an obvious partisan political target.


“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.

Republicans may have a potential self-interest beyond defending the institutional prerogatives of the legislative branch. With some of the party’s own lawmakers and aides under scrutiny in corruption inquiries tied to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the former lawmaker Randy Cunningham, Republicans would no doubt like to head off the possibility of embarrassing searches of their members’ offices.

So much for all that talk about “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Actually, Mr. Hastert et al are right; members of Congress are protected by what’s called the “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution,

which, among other things, requires that lawmakers be “privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same.” Many people may wonder why a Congressional office cannot be searched in a criminal case and what members of Congress are complaining about.

To many lawmakers, that is secondary to the larger separation-of-powers principle they see at risk.

Funny, they really didn’t seem to give a shit about the separation of powers when the Bushies ran roughshod over them to go to war and tap telephones without a warrant.

Aren’t these the same people who kept telling us during the Clinton administration that no one was above the law?

PS: As Joe at AMERICAblog notes, perhaps one other reason the GOP is worried about searches on Capital Hill is because what’s sauce for the Democratic goose (Rep. Jefferson) is sauce for the Republican gander (Ney, DeLay, Lewis, etc). Good point.