Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Congress is Right to Challenge the FBI

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are coming together to protests the FBI’s raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s congressional office and to demand that documents seized be returned immediately. Leaders of both parties agree that the raid violated the separation of powers.

On their side is history. The FBI raid was the first-ever raid by an executive branch agency on legislative branch property. And I can see why congressional leaders are upset. Permitting executive branch law enforcement agencies to raid congressional offices gives the executive branch significant power of intimidation against the legislature.

Now, I know we seem to have entered an age where people either have ebullient trust or reflexively irate distrust in the executive branch and its agencies. The once-defining American trait of considered and wise suspicion is all but extinguished. So, in attempt to ward off complaints that I somehow believe the FBI is evil or that the executive branch is the enemy, let me clearly state that I 1) support robust prosecution of all criminals, no matter their official position. And 2) I don’t think there’s a chance in the world that the FBI is going to suddenly become some kind of intimidator force for the executive branch to use against the legislature.

But our system exists not for the situations and personalities of today but for the long-term health of the nation. Separation of powers exists to thwart the attempts of malicious men and women who may one day come to power. Our Founders were smart enough to know that we can never assure angelic nature in all our leaders. But we can insure that, should a devious soul come to power, he or she will be broadly and completely checked and balanced.

So while I have no problem with the FBI investigating the crooked William Jefferson, I have to agree with members of Congress that it is wholly inappropriate for the FBI to raid a Congressional office. The inability for the FBI to seize legislative property may be a burden to law enforcement but that burden is far outweighed by the benefit steadfast separation of powers provides our nation.


Blogger Joe Weedon said...

Alan -
the issue here is whether or not any government or political property was searched or confiscated.... There's no way of telling at this point if any government property or records were searched, but the FBI had probable cause to search Jefferson's personal belongings at his office for evidence of criminal acts (ie, look for more money in his office fridge).

The FBI had probable cause, there is no evidence that they took any government or political documents... Why - under those circumstances - should a Congressional Office be held to a higher standard than any other professional office building?

Now, of course, I agree with you in the case that any political or governmental property was siezed.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

My understanding is that congressional property was seized--several boxes of documents.

11:14 AM  
Blogger AubreyJ said...

I'm glad to see the President stepped in and put a lid on it until all of this gets worked out... One way or the other.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Callimachus said...

It's highly disturbing because it's this White House, which has a tendency to advance executive power by simply claiming it has the right to do something, then doing it, then moving on.

OTOH, this is a Constitutional issue, and there are relevant clauses that seem to support what the White House did.

Just because it never has happened before doesn't mean it's wrong. There are a few clauses in the Constitution that have lain dormant for generations (the succession of the Secretary of State to the presidence, etc.). That doesn't mean they are less valid than the parts we use every day.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it makes sense to have a separation of powers. But the flip side to this situation is that if I were a congressman, I'd just make sure I only committed cimes in my congressional office (which isn't to say that what what congress passess of for governing nowadays isn't a crime in and of itself....) - then I'd not have to worry about prosecution. Let's face it - congressmen aren't the brightest bunch of people. The fact that Jefferson was the first to think about hiding evidence in his office just says he may the smartest crook of the bunch of them - in my humble opinion.

1:57 PM  

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