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.

By  |  May 31, 2006; 9:32 AM ET
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Are you suggesting that Alberto is not so speedy?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 31, 2006 11:26 AM

While the Speech and Debate clause does not give sanctuary to a member of Congress, it does protect his/her legislative papers. In this case, those papers were (most likely) included in the search and seizure executed at the Capitol. I think that even with the warrant, a breach of the separation of powers has occured.

Perhaps, since congress appears to be unable to eliminate corruption within its ranks, there needs to be legislation on how to go about searching a member's office without crossing that line.

Unfortunately, since the corruption usually involves official legislative acts, some overlap will be inevitable.

Posted by: Mark F. | May 31, 2006 11:53 AM

Now that they're serious about protecting someone's civil liberties (their own), I wonder if Congress will insist that Gonzalez testify under oath this time?

Anyone want to place a bet?

Posted by: Cujo359 | May 31, 2006 07:11 PM

AG Gonzales....thank GOD you will be out of office in about two years!!! It could have been LOTS worse, people! He could be sitting with the Supremes. That chance just went to hell in a handbasket.

Posted by: John | June 1, 2006 05:34 PM

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