The Wall Street Journal editorial page gets all huffy about the FBI raid of Democrat Rep. William Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office. The WSJ board thinks law enforcement officials should have “negotiate(d) the parameters of such a search with House leaders” instead of obtaining a judicial warrant. The “Speech and Debate Clause” of the Constitution, in their view, confers an impenetrable protective bubble over the taxpayer-funded offices of politicians.
Andy McCarthy hollers back:
Despite overwhelming evidence that Jefferson has disgraced their institution by prostituting his office for piles of cash, top legislators from both parties have rallied to his defense. They say they are defending a principle. In fact, they are perverting a privilege.
To be sure, members of Congress are not like the rest of us. They are the instantiation of our democratic self-determination. Through them, we exercise our power to govern ourselves. The Constitution thus vests them with broad immunities.
The speech-and-debate clause (Art. I, Sec. 6) is all the shield an honest public servant should ever need. It ensures that if a member of Congress is tending to legislative business—not just by speeches on the floor but through engagement in any legitimately legislative activity—that member need never fear prosecution or other legal fallout based on anything said or done. No resulting remark or action, however egregious—and no matter how quickly a similar transgression would subject a private citizen to crushing liability—can be used to threaten jail time or damages against one of the people’s representatives.
For congressional leaders, however, that is not enough. When it comes to their perks, nothing ever is.
They demand, instead, to be immunized from even being investigated. With stunning hauteur, they insist that “their” office space—space that actually belongs to the American people, and in which legislators enjoy the high privilege of serving the American people—has somehow transmogrified into their very own private felony safe harbor: An exclusive, members-only club, where evidence of bribery, fraud, obstruction, and any other violations of law and betrayals of the public trust can be hidden beyond the prying eyes of the public’s enforcement officers.
Talk about trampling the Constitution! This is a blatant distortion of Article I, which, immediately before immunizing speech and debate, expressly recognizes that members of Congress may be prosecuted for crimes.
Equally preposterous is the bunkum being brayed about an imperious executive branch asserting a monarch’s prerogative to rifle through legislative chambers. The Justice Department and the FBI have not come close to claiming such a right. The rule of law was scrupulously observed here.
Before they went anywhere near Jefferson’s office, the Justice Department served the congressman with a grand-jury subpoena, giving him the opportunity to turn over the evidence on his own. For you or me, a grand-jury subpoena is court process with which we must comply, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing. Jefferson, however, decided he was above such laws.
Pause over that. The congressman did not march into federal court like an ordinary citizen must do if he believes a subpoena has been issued illegally or violates some valid privilege against producing evidence. He did not argue his point and wait for the judge to rule. He thumbed his nose in contempt. Congressional leadership has been deafeningly mum on that—something worth bearing in mind as they bellow about separation-of-powers…
The WSJ editorial writers must have imbibed the same crazy drink Denny Hastert and House leaders had last week. Been a lot of that going on in GOP circles.
Jed Babbin is right: (Hat tip: Allah)
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If Bill Clinton had done it, we’d be shouting for impeachment. When President Bush ordered the sequestration of documents seized from the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La), he was trying to calm outraged House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Hastert sided with the Democrats in demanding the return of evidence in a criminal investigation taken pursuant to a properly issued search warrant. It is only by the courage of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that the Hastert-Bush effort to obstruct justice wasn’t immediately successful. Gonzales threatened to disobey an order to return the papers and to resign — loudly — if so ordered…
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