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May 25, 2006 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Seperation of Power? (newsfilter) In a strange move, both the Rs and the Ds are livid that the FBI raided the congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, (who may have accepted substantial bribes). House speaker Hastert spoke directly with the president, so, The president steps in an orders the documents sealed as a cooling off period as congress demands this is a separation of Powers issue. Some predict it will go to the SCOTUS.
posted by edgeways (55 comments total)

 
I hope this isn't too newfiltery, but it seems like a potentially "very important thing", in the long run.

I am unsure about the separation of powers issue, and it seems to me like Congress is finally calling foul after getting a taste of what it has been doing to others for awhile, so I have no sympathies for any of the players in this issue.
posted by edgeways at 2:10 PM on May 25, 2006


Your FPP subject and mispelling oddly remind me to tell you there is always A RAT in SEPARATION.
posted by Peter H at 2:11 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Summary: Congress doesn't give two shits what the executive branch does to common Americans, as long as they get theirs. This is one of the funniest examples of hypocrisy I've seen in a long time. Like, days.
posted by verb at 2:11 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


PATRIOT ACT, fine. Abu Ghraib, no problem. Signing statements, sure! A seemingly endless litany, as the Bush administration has systematically dismantled the seperation of powers in a truly egregious way ... but this is what gets them riled up? This is probably the one time I can think of that they actually did things legally.

But hey, whatever works, I s'pose....
posted by jefgodesky at 2:13 PM on May 25, 2006


But congressional offices are where some of the best evidence is kept!
posted by klangklangston at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2006


A ha. So Abu Ghraib, Tom DeLay, and NSA illegal wiretapping aren't enough to merit a proper congressional investigation, but a raid, with a warrant, following the videotaping of a Congressman taking a bribe that leads to uncovering 90 grand in the fucker's freezer, now the shit's hit the fan.

Democracy!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:15 PM on May 25, 2006


It's interesting to see Congress getting a little reminder that sometimes rights actually matter. That is, that they aren't just footling technicalities that bad guys hide behind. The discourse surrounding "rights" in this country--for long before 9/11 in fact, although the interminable "War on Terror" has certainly hastened the progress--has been so appallingly corroded by expediency ("who cares if we get a warrant, you don't want the guilty guy to go free, do you?" "if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you care" and so forth) that it's nice to see people in power getting reminded of their long forgotten Civics lessons. Of course, its not likely to stop them signing off on every abuse of Executive power other than those that directly impinge on them.
posted by yoink at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2006


I hate to tell you but this was a one day story that Congressional Republicans are going to make into the story of the year just so they can keep a "Democrat on the take" in the news for as long as possible. This is their strategy to counter the Democrat strategy of tainting Republicans with the stink of Tom Delay come November. It is also going to keep Kenny Boy (you remember him right? George Bush's biggest fundraiser, best buddy and newly annointed CONVICTED FELON) off the front page. For any liberal not to see this as anything other than a cooked up Rovian strategy of misdirection at this point is just sad.
posted by any major dude at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2006


I agree with verb and jefgodesky, the powerful rarely bitch about abuses of power unless it’s their asses getting chapped.

But I will say Bush came off as presidential at least. Which, actually, given the issue at hand, concerns me. He apparently can’t be bothered to for us peons.
Weird issue - the FBI had a search warrant, they had PC (videotape, etc.) Newsfiltery but interesting. Congress does seem to be covering for their own, given the judicial oversight.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:27 PM on May 25, 2006


“Democracy!”
posted by XQUZYPHYR

The Aristocrats!
posted by Smedleyman at 2:28 PM on May 25, 2006


I second what every other poster says. Hey Congress, try giving a damn when it's somebody else's rights.
posted by Nahum Tate at 2:28 PM on May 25, 2006


Well, sure, they can keep the "Democrat on the take" in the news and, at the same time, set things up to shield members of their own party from a similar fate.

Does anyone have a link to democrats who are saying, "Let him hang!" or republicans who are saying "why are we protecting this clown?" Those are the one's that shouldn't be shot when the revolution comes.

(BTW: Is there a Deacon Blues in the house to round out the triumvirate?)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2006


For any liberal not to see this as anything other than a cooked up Rovian strategy of misdirection at this point is just sad.

These days, Karl Rove has a pretty easy job. Pretty much anything that reflects badly on Democrats is ascribed to The Nefarious Hand of Rove. Even if/when he doesn't lift a finger to influence evens, everyone on the left wets their bed over the possibility that he did. If I were him, I'd be laughing my ass off.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2006


Pelosi, Hastert, et al. conveniently leave out two facts:

1. The search was prompted by the failure to comply with a subpoena from last summer.
2. They set special procedures forth in the warrant to avoid seizing privileged documents.

Even this horrible offense to our Constitution was carried out with a level of deference not afforded to the ordinary American citizen.
posted by Nahum Tate at 2:38 PM on May 25, 2006


I have this strange feeling that Congre$$ doesn't really care about the American people.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2006


And yeah, the Empire is totally falling apart.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:43 PM on May 25, 2006


Coach Hastert doesn't like it because he's being investigated.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:44 PM on May 25, 2006


I think Cheney and Rumsfeld know this, and they're cashing in before its too late.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:44 PM on May 25, 2006


My brain is kind of tired right now, but isn't this clearly Hastert playing CYA given that he's under investigation by the FBI of his involvement in the Abramoff/Republican corruption scandal?
posted by bardic at 2:45 PM on May 25, 2006


(Kirkaracha beat me to it.)
posted by bardic at 2:45 PM on May 25, 2006


I'm shocked, SHOCKED, I say, that there's a corrupt politician in Louisiana!
posted by mkultra at 2:45 PM on May 25, 2006


Bush orders documents seized in Capitol Hill search sealed
posted by kirkaracha at 2:49 PM on May 25, 2006


oops (must read links in future)
posted by kirkaracha at 2:49 PM on May 25, 2006


So let me get this straight. This is a separation of powers issue, but not the administration's novel legal theory that the President can ignore laws passed by Congress and do whatever he wants?

Gotcha.
posted by EarBucket at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2006


Thank you, FBI.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2006


People are saying Jefferson was busted because he fucked over the business people he was taking bribes from.

They never got what they paid for, so they went to the FBI.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:55 PM on May 25, 2006


[quote]People are saying Jefferson was busted because he fucked over the business people he was taking bribes from.

They never got what they paid for, so they went to the FBI.[/quote]What did they expect, bribing a Democrat these days?
posted by Happy Monkey at 2:59 PM on May 25, 2006


D'oh! Too much vbscript in my diet.
posted by Happy Monkey at 3:00 PM on May 25, 2006


"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.
I doubt the word "coequal" is in Dubya's vocabulary.
posted by indifferent at 3:09 PM on May 25, 2006


Does anyone have a link to democrats who are saying, "Let him hang!" or republicans who are saying "why are we protecting this clown?" Those are the one's that shouldn't be shot when the revolution comes.

Peloci asked him to step down from his comity chairmanships. Kos and many in the liberal blogsphere are demanding the Dems cut him lose, a sentiment I totally agree with. If you want to attack the republican "culture of corruption" then you've got to go after your own as well.

But yeah, congress can go fuck itself. It's handed our lives to the admin on a sliver platter, where do they get off whining about their own?
posted by delmoi at 3:12 PM on May 25, 2006


IANACL/S.... but two branches of government were involved. They went to a court to get a warrent.


Good editorial by the Post.


"Constitutional provisions designed to protect lawmakers from fear of political retribution, such as the speech-and-debate clause, counsel restraint and caution in circumstances such as these. They do not transform congressional offices into taxpayer-funded sanctuaries."
posted by trinarian at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2006


That's some congress y'all got there.

At this point, I think all Americans should be hoping for a 0% incumbency rate this year.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:31 PM on May 25, 2006


Yeah, Justice Dept. did this one by the numbers. The Constitutional protections -- intended by the Framers to keep the Executive Branch from mucking around with the Legislative Branch, and rooted in protections Parliament had from the Crown in England -- do not cover this.

Someone above asked, "Does anyone have a link to democrats who are saying, "Let him hang!"?"

Why, yes. Yes, in fact, I do.

In addition to Nancy Pelosi's calling for Jefferson to step down from Ways & Means (she can't force him to), blogger Steve Gilliard, who is liberal, Democratic and African American, delivers Jefferson (and the Congressional Black Caucus, which is stupidly sticking up for him) a bitch slap for the ages.
posted by lexalexander at 3:31 PM on May 25, 2006


Kid Charlemagne: (BTW: Is there a Deacon Blues in the house to round out the triumvirate?)

I dunno; why don't you ask Dr. Wu?
posted by hangashore at 3:36 PM on May 25, 2006


For any liberal not to see this as anything other than a cooked up Rovian strategy of misdirection at this point is just sad.

Huh? If the Republicans just want a corrupt Democrat to point to surely they'd be all for the FBI getting all the evidence they can to get the guy into court. By turning this into a "limits of Executive power" issue they take the focus off the "corrupt Democrat" and make people suspect that they've all got skeletons in their closets.

All of you saying "I'll care when they start caring about my rights" seem to have failed the tricky "how many wrongs make a right" question. The FBI's action may or may not be defensible, but to pretend that the issue of the limitations of the powers of the Executive branch over the Legislative branch is unimportant because the Legislative branch has not been an adequate watchdog on other abuses of Executive power is cutting off your nose to spite your face.
posted by yoink at 3:36 PM on May 25, 2006


[expletive deleted]:
At this point, I think all Americans should be hoping for a 0% incumbency rate this year.

That's my new voting strategy. It means I'll have to vote against Sen. Carl Levin, but he's been a big disappointment anyway. It'll be third parties across the board.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2006


to pretend that the issue of the limitations of the powers of the Executive branch over the Legislative branch is unimportant because the Legislative branch has not been an adequate watchdog on other abuses of Executive power is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Yup.
posted by rollbiz at 3:57 PM on May 25, 2006


For any liberal not to see this as anything other than a cooked up Rovian strategy of misdirection at this point is just sad.

It never ceases to amaze me that when a Democrat pisses on us, we say "Don't let the Republicans win the pissing contest! Please continue pissing on us!"
posted by scottreynen at 4:22 PM on May 25, 2006


I hate to tell you but this was a one day story that Congressional Republicans are going to make into the story of the year just so they can keep a "Democrat on the take" in the news for as long as possible. This is their strategy to counter the Democrat strategy of tainting Republicans with the stink of Tom Delay come November.

I totally agree with what "any major dude" said above. Can't you hear Hannity harping on this as if it were a missing white woman or a flooded bus?

That, and someone else observed this is kind of an inoculation against corruption investigations should Democrats take back the House and Senate in November.

I also see the Rove's fingerprints on this. Imagine the FBI setting William Jefferson up for chump change while we all forget the billions stolen in Iraq.
posted by BillyElmore at 4:41 PM on May 25, 2006


This issue--whether the Constitution allows the executive branch to perform a search of the legislative branch--is a significant legal question that will end up before the U. S. Supreme Court. It deserves to go there.

The fundamental paradox of the concept of separation of powers is that none of the branches of government has the lawful power to exercise a power allotted under the Constitution to another branch. Nor may one of the branches lawfully impede the functions of another. Each branch is sovereign in its own realm of authority.

It is easy to think of "the Sovereign" as one person. Under the Constitution, however, the soveregn power of the United States is placed in the hands of all three branches simultaneously, with none having overall primacy. By protecting the independence of each branch, the separation of powers doctrine protects the collective sovereignty via those "checks and balances" you used to hear about. Keeping the FBI out of Congresssional office space is one of those checks.

No search had previously been executed on Congressional precincts by officials of the executive branch. It is clear that the received view has been that the executive writ did not run in Congresssional quarters, broadly defined to include meeting rooms and offices as well as the cloak rooms and floors of the legislative chambers themselves. It is easy to imagine a banana republic where the legislative assembly is cowed by the secret police; it is hard to imagine the U.S. Congress as the cowed assembly because we have not heretofore recognized the concept of executive supervision of the legislative branch. As repellent as most Congress persons might be, they exercise 100 per cent of our sovereign legislative authority. This lawmaking authority--*our* authority-- must be protected, even if it might be marginally harder to prosecute individual crooked legislators. The feds already have a case against Rep. Jefferson: indict him, already!

No matter how much of a crook Mr. Jefferson might be, we mess with the bones of our estimable political system if we buy into the notion that the executive branch may lawfully investigate the legislative branch. If I were advising Hastert or Pelosi, I would encourage either to institute a mandamus action against Bush to seek immediate return of the documents that were confiscated.
posted by rdone at 4:43 PM on May 25, 2006


this is such bullshit. since when does separation of powers mean the president interferes in a federal investigation? this is an abuse of executive power, not a trampling of legislative "rights." since when was there a legislative right to accept bribes with impunity? and this is all because hastert knows he's next, so he goes crying to dubya. this isn't about separation of powers. it's about granting blanket immunity to all congress critters. screw that. there isn't some secret police nosing around the cloak room. if a hooker were strangled in the house cloak room, you'd be demanding it be checked out, no? but ignore a subpeona and that should be ok? nosiree. nosiree bobtail. not having that.

this government appears headed for some kind of internal meltdown. is this our punishment because we managed to finally bring down lay and skilling? heck, we already paid with gray davis's head for that privilege.

and as a lifelong yellow dog democrat: you can hang jefferson out to dry. louisiana deserves better.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:47 PM on May 25, 2006


since when was there a legislative right to accept bribes with impunity?

There is no right to accept bribes. There is (or should be) a right for congressmen not to have their Capitol Hill offices searched by the FBI. You're making exactly the mistake I described above, sacrificing an extremely important principle for short-term expediency: "We know this guy is guilty, so why do you care?"

This is the same attitude that has people saying "why do I care if the NSA listens in on people's conversations without a warrant--if you're not doing anything wrong, they won't trouble you." It's the same attitude that says, "who cares if they had no probable cause to search this guy, he's a criminal!" I care because we're supposed to live in a nation of laws. There are supposed to be limits on Executive power--even when those limits occasionally mean bad people getting away with bad acts.

Yes, this clown clearly appears to be guilty. They've got lots of evidence, they should indict him and bring him to trial. But DON'T send the FBI in to rummage around in his office. DON'T put the Legislative branch structurally in the position of being the intimidated lap dog of the Executive even if they seem to be willing to act in that way by choice.

Or, what rdone said.
posted by yoink at 5:07 PM on May 25, 2006


Congressional immunity, as defined by the Constitution, ensures that members of Congress "shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony, and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same, and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."

1) This is to prevent the executive branch to stop members of the legislative branch from voting on laws they don't like by having them thrown into jail. It doesn't mean they're immune from prosecution or investigation.

2) The speech and debate clause prohibits the executive from interfering with the legislative process. Jefferson's bribery scandal has nothing to do with his duties as a congressman, so he doesn't have an immunity shield regarding it.

3) The Justice Department's been remarkably well-behaved in this case. They tried a supoena first, but Jefferson's ignored that for almost a year. They proceeded with a warrant and iron-clad probable cause. This has nothing to do with intimidation of the legislative branch and everything to do with investigation of a felony--one of the exceptions, by the way, to the congressional immunity granted by the Constitution.

Immunity's not a shield for dead hookers, bags of cocaine, or suitcases full of cash. Jefferson abused the system, and he can swing with DeLay, Cunningham, and the rest of 'em.
posted by EarBucket at 5:11 PM on May 25, 2006


3) The Justice Department's been remarkably well-behaved in this case. They tried a supoena first, but Jefferson's ignored that for almost a year. They proceeded with a warrant and iron-clad probable cause. This has nothing to do with intimidation of the legislative branch and everything to do with investigation of a felony--one of the exceptions, by the way, to the congressional immunity granted by the Constitution.

Dosn't it stand to reason that he would have destroyed any shread of evidence he happened to have in his offices during that time?
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on May 25, 2006


Dosn't it stand to reason that he would have destroyed any shread of evidence he happened to have in his offices during that time?

Stands to reason, yes. With these clowns, though, nothing would shock me anymore. I wouldn't be surprised to find out he'd written "I TOOK A BRIBE" in his own feces on the bathroom wall.
posted by EarBucket at 5:28 PM on May 25, 2006


Dosn't it stand to reason that he would have destroyed any shread of evidence he happened to have in his offices during that time?

Doesn't it stand to reason that he would have not committed these crimes in the first place when there are plenty of perfectly legal ways for corrupt politicians to sell their votes? It's a good thing the justice department doesn't assume suspected criminals to be reasonable.
posted by scottreynen at 5:33 PM on May 25, 2006


You're making exactly the mistake I described above, sacrificing an extremely important principle for short-term expediency: "We know this guy is guilty, so why do you care?"

no. he ignored a subpoena. for which there was ample probable cause.

there's no probable cause for the nsa to spy on every american.

not the same mistake at all. in fact, no mistake. a separation of powers would mean the president should have kept his hands off this and let the wheels of justice turn unimpeded. he's gone from providing cover for corrupt members of his own party to just plain providing cover for corruption period.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:52 PM on May 25, 2006


I'm sure the Republicans would love to see this become a big deal. They want to keep "Asshat Democratic Lawmaker Gets Caught Taking Bribes" in the headlines as long as possible.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:52 PM on May 25, 2006


People are saying Jefferson was busted because he fucked over the business people he was taking bribes from.

They never got what they paid for, so they went to the FBI.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:55 PM PST on May 25


Well DUH. The party out of favor can't deliver. So why give money to a group who can't deliver?

The 'CONtract on America' was a reaction to the democRATS nailed in the last bribe investigation round.

Both parties are corrupt. Alas, I have no good solution to clean house.

But lets start with:
Any law passed must 1st be applied to the executive branch, staff and their relatives, Congress Kritters, staff and their relatives and the Judges, staff and their relatives.

So many laws would just go 'poof' if they were to apply to the ruling class.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:59 PM on May 25, 2006


I'm sure the Republicans would love to see this become a big deal. They want to keep "Asshat Democratic Lawmaker Gets Caught Taking Bribes" in the headlines as long as possible.

Asshat Democrats should probably stop taking bribes then.
posted by scottreynen at 10:06 PM on May 25, 2006


zing!
posted by AllesKlar at 10:14 PM on May 25, 2006


Nothing strange about it - Congress attempts to exempt itself from many of the laws it wants enforced afgainst the rest of the populace. This is a non-partisan closing of the ranks to keep law-enforcement from exposing how wide-spread corruption rellay is.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:21 AM on May 26, 2006


No, it's not. Hastert is pissed because he understands that if the President's men can come busting into a Congressman's office for a good reason, the President can also send his men busting into a Representative's office just to intimidate him, or to read files about legislative plans for the next several weeks, or to embarrass him, or for any other damnfool reason.

It would have been much better for the FBI to have taken this to the Speaker's office or to the Sergeant at Arms (or both) to demand compliance with the subpoena or to have the SAA or Capitol Police (who aren't responsible to the President) actually conduct a search with FBI "assistance."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:50 AM on May 26, 2006


Damn you and your cogent arguments EarBucket and 3.2.3!
(nice)

I think ROU_Xenophobe’s on to something though.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:05 PM on May 26, 2006


I think ROU_Xenophobe’s on to something though.

i can't argue with that.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2006


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