NYT Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday.
I dont blame him. Hastert and Peloci were idiots to complain about the legitimacy of the raid. Bush was very wise to do what neither group wanted, and seal the documents for 45 days while they could check with the Supreme Court, but giving them back just because the House complained would have been very wrong.Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress. The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.
CQ blogged Until now, Gonzalez has always appeared to be a moderate, get-along-to-go-along political appointee. However, this shows that the AG has serious backbone and integrity to spare. He and Mueller both understood the stakes involved in this standoff and refused to participate in creating a political class insulated from law enforcement. Without the power to enforce and execute duly authorized subpoenas and search warrants, members of Congress could hide evidence of corruption in their offices with no fear of exposure or prosecution. It would create a taxpayer-funded sanctuary for crooks, and the top officials at Justice sent the message that they would not become accessories to that system.
Bush already knew this but wanted Hastert to come to that conclusion on his own, or at least allow Hastert the opportunity to appear to have done so. Before anyone made the kind of bold public gesture Gonzalez threatened, he simply froze the status quo for six weeks, giving time for everyone to reach their own conclusions rather than get embarrassed by a Supreme Court decision that would undoubtedly have painted Hastert and Pelosi as obstructors of justice.
Given this time out for his obstinacy, Hastert and his colleagues have busied themselves with goalpost-moving and backtracking. Before, they claimed a Constitutional privilege of freedom from search warrants and subpoenas from the executive branch, even though Congress regularly issues subpoenas without judicial approval against members of the executive branch. Now Hastert has acknowledged that Congressmen are subject to the same laws as everyone else, but have modified their complaint; now they say the issue is that Jefferson and his attorney were not allowed to be present at the search. That's a far cry from the phony Constitutional crisis they declared earlier this week, perhaps a more reasonable issue and certainly one that didn't require Hastert's intercession. He could have kept his mouth shut and let Jefferson's attorney raise that question when the evidence got submitted for trial -- just like any other defendant in a criminal case.
The denouement of this kerfuffle demonstrates two very important points. George Bush still holds the power in Washington and in the GOP, and this controversy shows that he and the people at Justice remain the adults in charge of the day care center. Hastert has severely damaged himself politically in two ways. No one in the GOP will ever give Hastert the same level of trust again after this attempt to pervert the Constitution, and Republicans will remain furious with him for taking the focus off of William Jefferson and his cash-cow business in selling his vote
Sister Toldjah blogged Get real. The statement clearly implies that the feds went about this wrong. On the contrary, Speaker Hastert, the feds did what they had to do: they obtained a legal warrant from a judge and searched Jefferson’s Congressional office accordingly. Hastert continues to make statements he can’t back up, and I wish someone in Washington would call on him to explain himself. His official statement missed the mark.
Hey, here’s an idea: if only the President would rescind his intial order for the evidence to be sealed for 45 days, then maybe Reps. Hastert and Pelosi would resign in protest. I, for one, wouldn’t object to that one bit.
OTB blogged I’m glad to see someone had some backbone in this matter. To have thrown away evidence against a corrupt congressman obtained through a legal raid backed by a judicial warrant out of political appeasement would have been outrageous. Separation of powers or no, Congress is not above the law.
Michael Galien blogged I believe Gonzales, Mueller and McNulty did the right thing here (threatening to resign). The search of Jefferson's office was, in my opinion, justified. When you're so deep in an investigation, when you got so much evidence to back it up, you need to stand tall. One might only wonder what would have happened if the Justice Department would have given in to the pressure from Congress. What impression would they have made.