Sunday, May 28, 2006

Searching the House

You know the story by now: FBI searches the office of a congressman. Congress raises a stink. Bureau chief and Attorney General threaten to resign if search is ruled illegal.

A couple of interesting thoughts present themselves. One is the studious secrecy of the Bush Administration itself. These people claim "executive privilege" at the drop of a hat, even for such basic details as which industry lobbyists the Veep meets with before making policy. Never mind the outright lies that Scott "Pudgie" McClellan used to tell in his effort to stonewall the Plame investigation. So is it just me, or is there a faint aroma of hypocrisy here?

After all, executive privilege exists so that the President and his team can do their work without coercion from the other branches. Although Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution doesn't specify that a congressman's chambers shall be off-limits to an Executive Branch investigation, it certainly tends in that direction. It exempts them from prosecution, or even questioning, for things they do on the floor of Congress. As with soveriegn or diplomatic immunity, legislators are freed from certain kinds of scrutiny in order to let them function independently. So you can see why Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Pelosi, strange bedfellows to be sure, are ticked off at the White House.

But let's give the devil his due. Rep. William Jefferson of Louisian is accused of accepting bribes. Does anybody actually doubt his guilt? I mean, the guy's a congressman. From Louisiana. Of course he took the money. So you can also see why he was under investigation in the first place, and why AG Gonzales and FBI Guy Mueller are ready to quit over this. He probably broke the law, they know it, and they want to put him in jail. Rightly so, if only the search were legal.

And oh my stars and garters, will you look at this. President Bush actually arranged a compromise -- a 45-day period for both sides to cool their jets. While it is a pleasant novelty to type the words "Bush" and "compromise" in the same sentence, let's be honest about this. Washington in general, and the House in particular, are places in which a lot of old grudges remain in play, seemingly without terminus. The two parties are still pissed at each other over Vietnam and Watergate, disasters which predate the birth of the average blogger. The Whitewater investigators spent six years looking into allegations that were already a decade old. The power elites have gotten over Teapot Dome, but only just.

So jets are going to cool in six weeks? We think not. This time-out is probably just a chance for both sides to marshall their forces. And remember, the sides in question aren't Republican versus Democrat. They are Executive versus Legislative -- or, it sometimes seems, autocrat versus .

But here's the silver lining: Gonzales and Mueller threatened to resign if they don't get their own way. So if Bush were a really smart politician, this could be a great opportunity. He could simply insist that the privileges of Congress be respected, and the seized documents be returned -- simultaneously striking a blow for the Constitution and forcing out the single most articulate spokesman for the illegal and immoral practice of torture that has helped to taint his administration's place in history and the good name of the United States.

Win-win, Mister President. Win-freaking-win.

No comments: