Can you say “Watergate”? The latest on the Jefferson raid gets us into Saturday Night Massacre territory.
Not only are the AG, the Deputy AG, and the FBI Director prepared to resign in protest if Bush orders them to return the materials seized in the Jefferson raid, they’re almost openly on the warpath against the Republican majority in the House. Here’s the money paragraph from Saturday’s blockbuster NYT story by David Johnston and Carl Hulse, vaguely sourced to “government officials” but obviously from the DoJ:
Tensions were especially high because officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. viewed the Congressional protest, led by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and House Republicans, as largely a proxy fight for battles likely to come over criminal investigations into other Republicans in Congress.
(Those would be, presumably, the Abramoff and MZM investigations.)
Now who other than the DoJ could have been familiar with the thinking of “officials at the Justice Department and FBI”? It will be interesting to see whether Gonzales, McNulty, and Mueller, the three officials mentioned by name, come forward to contradict the story. This is a case where silence gives consent.
[The NYT wasn’t alone, or even first, with the resignation-threat story; Maura Reynolds and Richard B. Schmitt of the LA Times had it Friday, though they buried it in teh 29th (!) paragraph where it took the sharp eyes of Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker to find it. But the NYT converts the LAT’s vague “senior department officials” into the top triumvirate, and adds the willingness of DoJ to link the Jefferson matter with the two giant scandals.]
The Times reported 10 days ago that the House Republican leadership had decided to resist FBI document requests in the two mega-scandals, Abramoff and MZM. That was and is an outrage, which passed with remarkably little comment from the mass media, bloggers, and Democrats. But it seems as if the folks at 9th and Penn. take the same dim view I do of obstruction of justice by elected officials.
Now it’s time (past time, actually) for the Democrats to force the issue, by insisting that all of the documents be turned over at once. Under the post-Gingrich rules, the House minority is virtually powerless to influence legislation, but it is not without resources. Repeated quorum calls could bring House business to a halt. And on this issue, we’d have the country behind us.
Footnote I criticized the FBI for (as I believe) using its control over information gathered as part of a criminal investigation to damage Dennis Hastert in revenge for Hastert’s criticism of the Bureau. That was wrong, not because information was leaked, but because the power of the criminal process was used to inflict a political wound. By contrast, the current story seems to me to reflect nothing but credit on whoever leaked it. When the Congress or the President interferes with the course of justice, it’s entirely appropriate for enforcement officials to complain, long and loud.