The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redux

by Last Night in Little Rock

I have been provided with the link to a copy of the search warrant for Rep. Jefferson's (D-LA2, New Orleans) Congressional office as well as defense counsel's excellent memorandum for sealing the records pending litigation of speech and debate privilege and separation of powers. I'm impressed with both. The affidavit online has several things redacted, but, what is there is damning. It is painful to read.

Defense counsel, Robert P. Trout and Amy Berman Jackson of Trout Chacheris PLLC, provide a compelling argument for sealing the product of the search, which the President did for them before the court could act.

The irony here is so thick you can cut it with a knife. DoJ is falling all over itself to give Jefferson every benefit of the doubt about how the search occurred with a "Filter Team" of uninvolved FBI agents to determine what is seizable and what is not. The average citizen would have had everything packed up and carried off for later analysis. The search warrant affidavit recognizes likely assertion of a speech and debate privilege under U.S. Const., Art. I, cl. 6, and the FBI did its best to minimize the intrusion.

Among the redacted material are references to what else was done in an effort to get the records short of a search warrant that failed. The defense, however, raises the question that the government failed to utilize "less intrusive measures" than a search, something the Supreme Court has yet to recognize, but the nature of this case may change that. If so, good.

Shortly after 4 p.m EDT, the N.Y. Times posted, for tomorrow's paper: Constitutional Squabble May Have Earlier Roots.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is moving publicly to put his constitutional showdown with the Justice Department in the past, but many on Capitol Hill believe that the bitter confrontation will resonate in the coming months.

Lawmakers and senior officials say Mr. Hastert's determined challenge to the Justice Department's court-authorized search of a Congressional office arose as much from frustration at missteps and slights by high-level administration officials as it did from outrage over what he saw as a gross violation of Congressional turf.

. . . .

The F.B.I. demand for access to the Rayburn House Office Building suite of Representative William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat under investigation in a corruption case, was seen as the last straw by Republican leaders worried about holding their majority in the House in the November elections, particularly with President Bush's flagging popularity.

"We are five months away from an election, and we can't afford to make high-profile mistakes," said one senior Republican official who was granted anonymity because he did not want to be identified discussing sensitive party strains. "There is a sense of tension in the air."

Further down in the same article:

Congressional Republicans say their anger, exacerbated by their midterm political perils, is not aimed directly at Mr. Bush. They believe that Mr. Bush and his immediate circle have improved their efforts to consult with Congress, reversing a previously dismissive attitude as evidenced by two recent appearances by Karl Rove, the White House political strategist, at meetings of House Republicans.

And they say Mr. Bush, who heard complaints from Mr. Hastert about the search and Mr. Goss's dismissal, showed that he was sympathetic to the House stance by ordering the seized materials to be sealed for 45 days. The problem, one official said, is with cabinet secretaries like Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales who, from the House perspective, do not seem to consider Congress an equal partner in governance.

And, it was "rumored," per CNN (and already noted here on Talkleft), that AG Gonzalez threatened like a petulent child to resign if the White House caved in to Congressional pressure on the Jefferson probe. So, the White House ordered the records sealed for 45 days.

Of course the President and AG Gonzalez do not consider Congress an equal partner in government. Not that Congress has proved otherwise, because it is the President's lapdog, not his watchdog. "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." George W. Bush, December 18, 2002 (CNN transcript and video).

Politics never ceases to amaze me. The Republicans in Congress are turning on the President? Sounds more like rats leaving a sinking ship.

Here, the rats knew the ship was sinking but they needed an excuse to disembark (so as to not have it appear "Abandon Ship!"), as if saving their careers wasn't incentive enough. Then, the unprecedented search of a Congressman's office occurs, and their have a handy excuse to wield.

So Congress says: "The Executive Branch is out of control!" Well, duh.

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    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#1)
    by jimcee on Sat May 27, 2006 at 04:47:48 PM EST
    I'm not sure why Hastert et al think they are going to help themselves come November by crying foul about warranted FBI searches of a particular Congressman's office. A congressman that by all appearences was excepting bribes. So if I get the drift of the post the Republicans are trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president by defending a corrupt fellow representative from the other party? And this is supposed to play to whom? Either this theory is really silly or the Republicans are more foolish than they appear. I just get the feeling that this investigation is hitting close to home for many elected officials of both parties and I wouldn't be suprised if they aren't moving some possibly incriminating things out of thier offices over the holiday weekend. This should prove most entertaining to those of us who enjoy scandal and a good self-hoisting on one's own petard.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#2)
    by joejoejoe on Sat May 27, 2006 at 05:53:57 PM EST
    I think this outrage is fake. The Congressional GOP is holding up Rep. Jefferson's prosecution and Bush is calling a 45-day cooling off period. It sounds like the timing of Jefferson's indictment is being timed for maximum effect in the '06 elections and it was probably the idea of the White House political office. That resignation story was anoynmous PR for the integrity of Bush DoJ, not news.

    It seems to me this might be worth taking into acct ... Election-year Investigations Karl Rove and the FBI Molly Ivins Rove, as all the world knows, has been a longtime Republican political operative in Texas prior to heading to Washington with Bush. During that time, Texas Democrats noticed a pattern that they eventually became somewhat paranoid about: In election years, there always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. ...

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#4)
    by DonS on Sun May 28, 2006 at 06:09:12 AM EST
    My guess is that the administration never thought there would be serious backlash; that because it was an investigation of a Dem that: 1) the Repubs would either a) jump on the bandwagon or b) put up minimal, behind the scenes objection 2) the Dems would either a) do their usual rubber stamp thing or b) keep quiet and hope no one would notice a Dem scandal (hah) I might guess that the DOJ counter backlash was initiated by Mueller and not waterboy Gonzales . . . if its true at all and not a face saving coverup by the admin. (Rove not interested in seeing the GOP self destruct before elections) Another related story from WAPO: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/27/AR2006052700906.html

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#5)
    by DonS on Sun May 28, 2006 at 06:16:16 AM EST
    P.S., I can certainly buy Sans-Coulotte's take and the Molly Ivins story, but is Jefferson really big enough fish to counter all the ongoing thug scandals? I guess that might depend on what the definition of "scandal" is and who owns the media.

    Dang. Jefferson is toast.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Sun May 28, 2006 at 12:00:31 PM EST
    Just to spice things up a bit on a very lazy Sunday, here is WMR's take on the seizure of the docs:
    The FBI's raid on Jefferson's office may have had more to do with eliminating evidence involving U.S. oil companies in Nigerian bribery schemes (and, therefore, protect Cheney) than in nailing Jefferson.
    With all the puffery of Gonzales and GWB's odd seal this sounds plausible. WMR

    oh wayne friggin' madsen. geez.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Sun May 28, 2006 at 01:03:29 PM EST
    In this case, though, Congress found an unlikely ally within the White House for its point of view: Cheney. Although a strong proponent of executive power, Cheney and his staff sided with Hastert concerning the raid.
    WaPo Odd, especially in light of the Boston Globe article by Charlie Savage. via Laura Rozen
    Previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined.
    Interesting that he is backing congress here with one hand while the other hand is trumping congress' laws. I guess that clears him of having anything to do with the nigerian oil deals and Jefferson. Nice move Dick, I bet you did not have anything to do with the President's sealing Jefferson's docs did you? For the record you are against DOJ raiding Congressional Offices with a warrant. For now anyway, when it does not count. My question about this odd turn of events is this: What would have happened if the president did not intervene to seal the docs? My guess is nothing. It is all a theatrical smoke screen. The challenge will still go to the SC and Congress will lose, all in time for the Democratic takeover of the house and maybe even the senate. We are going to have a few very very contentious years ahead between the Exec branch and congress.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#10)
    by squeaky on Mon May 29, 2006 at 09:51:37 AM EST
    Josh Marshall provides the smelling salts:
    let's not forget the context in which this stink arose. Earlier this month, we found out that the Duke Cunningham case was expanding and that the Duke case investigators were requesting documents from Congress as part of their probe into the roles of other members of Congress. The response from the Hill was, in so many words, 'No, You're asking for too much stuff.'[emphasis added]
    TPM And my tin foil hat is still making high pitched beeps and the LED's are still blinking. Guess I have to take it into the shop for a tune up or something.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Mon May 29, 2006 at 09:57:45 AM EST
    More smelling salts from Barney Frank:
    I disagree with the bipartisan House leadership criticism of the FBI's search of a Member's office.... What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress.

    Re: The Jefferson Congressional Office Search Redu (none / 0) (#12)
    by LibraryLady on Mon May 29, 2006 at 11:12:58 AM EST
    Ms. Merritt, I know today is a Holiday and I hope you are busy with family and friends but when you get a chance can you explain why Jefferson has not been charged? I live in Louisiana, I drug myself throught the search warrant you posted (ugh!), I watched Jefferson during Katrina and I really think he is guilty but we see nothing coming. Thank you for your time. LL