Don't Ask Alberto
The House Judiciary Committee wants U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to come before it to explain and justify the feds' decision to search the Congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson and to seize materials there which may be used against the Louisiana Democrat. If past is prologue, Committee members might as well use the time they will devote to having Gonzales on the hot seat to play Brickbreaker on their Blackberrys.
The Attorney General will provide a whole new layer of meaninglessness to an exercise that already has proven itself to be useless. Just as he did when questioned about the NSA domestic surveillance program, Gonzales will provide vague, incomplete and evasive answers replete with general legal standards that will tell neither Committee members nor the rest of us what truly went on inside the Justice Department before it authorized the FBI to raid the legislator's office. He will say, over and over again, that there is nothing in the text of the Constitution, or in the case law interpreting it, that precludes the executive branch from executing a search warrant, endorsed by a judge, against a member of Congress. His appearance before the Committee will be an hours-long kabuki dance not remotely worth the time and effort it will absorb.
I'm not surprised that House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) decided to hold a hearing on the topic and then to call the Attorney General to testify. Rep. Sensenbrenner has a penchant either for making much of little or for making little of much. In this case, the real action over the raid is taking place in private as lawyers from the executive and legislative branch try to hammer out a compromise in the time given them by President Bush, who last week ordered a 45-day cooling off period. And the more Rep. Sensennbrenner focuses upon this issue the less time he'll have to mess up the judiciary with his latest cockamamie scheme to curtail the power and authority of judges.
This story is less about the law than it is about politics and history. There is no legal precedent precluding the police from raiding a Congressional office under a valid search warrant-- there is merely the political and historical reality that it hasn't happened before. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that there is a first time for everything.
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