Jefferson Seizure Leads To Internal GOP Fissures
Politics makes strange bedfellows inside the Beltway, none more so than the battle lines that have emerged over the search of Democratic representative William Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office by the FBI and Abu Gonzales's Justice Department last weekend, a raid we are to believe the White House knew nothing about until it happened (because searching the offices of a black Democratic congressman in an election year is of no interest to this nonpolitical White House). In a mind-bending story in today’s Post, we are told that Bush ordered the documents taken from Jefferson’s office sealed for 45 days on Thursday to stop his own House GOP caucus from exploding over the incident and demanding that Alberto Gonzales resign for authorizing it.
We are also told that Gonzales, his new deputy Paul McNulty, and FBI director Robert Mueller had sent word to Bush that if he decided to appease Denny Hastert and the House GOP caucus and return the documents to Jefferson, all three would resign or force Bush to fire them for refusing to do so. We are told that while Gonzales, McNulty, and Mueller took their stand, they were opposed by of all people Dick Cheney and his new chief of staff David Addington, who as former congressional types both thought Gonzales created a major constitutional problem for the White House with their own caucus by having the Justice Department execute a warrant on Capitol Hill. This would be the same Dick Cheney who believes in the imperial presidency, objecting to something an attorney general did who is closer to Bush than anyone else in the West Wing except Karl Rove.
Excuse me if I find all of this to be utter BS. I have no sympathy for Jefferson, a guy who apparently took a bribe, ignored a subpoena, stashed the cash in his freezer, and who voted for the estate tax repeal and the bankruptcy bill in one two-day period last year. The man is no friend of working Americans and is nothing more than a DLC guy on the make. Having said that, what really is at play here is that Hastert finally got a wake-up call after five years that the imperial, unitary executive reserved the right to turn its investigative energies not just at everyday Americans, but also towards Congress as well. And with that, the GOP suddenly cared about privacy and being free from what they deemed to be unreasonable searches and seizures, notwithstanding the fact that Hastert and Frist suddenly were petrified at what the FBI might find in their offices as the Abramoff and Cunningham investigations hit their stride. As the New York Times noted in their account of this dust-up, Gonzales felt that he had to defend his troops here and make the ultimate threat because he believed that Hastert staged this as a proxy fight to box in Justice over the upcoming investigations of the House GOP. Gonzales feels apparently (and correctly) that Hastert was trying to cut off DOJ’s legs in future searches and seizures of Republicans by raising a fuss here on a Democrat unconnected to the bigger GOP culture of corruption. If Hastert and Frist did nothing here in response to the raid on Jefferson’s office, they were worried that it would signal to Justice that open season on Republicans could begin.
I doubt that Cheney, for his part, really raised an objection to the raid on constitutional grounds or any newfound concern for the separation of powers, two things that have been an alien concept to him and his staff for five years now. Cheney may have felt the way he did because 1) he correctly calculated that the raid would cost Bush whatever remaining support he had inside his own caucus for his agenda in an election year; 2) he doesn't want Republicans investigated at all and wants Justice to Deep Six the Abramoff and Cunningham inquiries because of where they will lead (the White House); and 3) he saw a chance to stick a finger in Rove and Gonzales's eyes. For his part, Gonzales got to send a message back to Bush that he would have to choose between him and Cheney here, while also sending the message that Justice can't be neutered here just to placate corrupt members of Congress without causing serious harm to the organization. Ironically, Cheney and Gonzales agree on one point: neither one wants Justice to investigate the Executive Branch.
In any event, Hastert and Frist got their wake-up call that the Justice Department will be coming after them, and have now decided that this issue matters to them. Sure, some "compromise" will be reached between Frist, Hastert, and Gonzales, but the question remains: will that compromise make the GOP congress feel more safe or less safe?