Bush and the House GOP
    against the Justice Department and the FBI

The AG, Deputy AG, and FBI Director have all threatened to resign if Bush orders them to return the Jefferson files. And someone at DoJ is telling the newspapers that the fight about Jefferson is really a proxy for the fight about the two big investigations of Republican corruption.

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on “Bush and the House GOP
    against the Justice Department and the FBI”

  1. Ah, now things are coming into focus. It never made sense to me that Hastert, having stood by while the administration crossed red line after red line, would suddenly become Mr. Separation of Powers, and rush to the principled defense of a political opponent.
    I suspect the original leak regarding Hastert being under investigation (whatever its propriety) was the prelude to this one–in the sense that it originated from the same sources, and had substantially the same intended purpose: putting everyone on notice (the House leadership then, the White House now) that the leakers are not prepared to back down, no matter how many top Republican representatives get swept up in the investigation.
    If so, then Jefferson was, for all concerned, nothing but a test case.

  2. While we on the subject, can we simultaneously insist that the White House release the records relating to Abramoff and stop it's obstruction of the NSA investigation?

  3. And why the hell are the Congressional Democrats energetically playing along with this scheme by the Congressional Republicans — unless it's because a great many of them really do have large amounts of dirt to cover up themselves?
    Nothing this wretched administration has done over the last five years has depressed me as much as the behavior of the Congressional Democrats the instant they were finally given an opportunity to decisively separate themselves in the public eye from the conduct of the Republicans — and deliberately, and forcefully, turned that opportunity down. What sane voter now can reject the claim we'll be hearing for the rest of the 2006 campaign that "both parties are equally corrupt"?

  4. Bruce, I think Nancy Pelosi was objecting for reasons closer to Mark's than to Hastert's, namely the poor precedent of allowing the FBI to roll in and seize stuff.
    In an AP piece (I see it on Salon, but it is probably in several locations), "House leaders conceded Friday that FBI agents with a court-issued warrant can legally search a congressman's office, but they said they want procedures established after agents with a court warrant took over a lawmaker's office last week."
    Pelosi is quoted further down in the article, "Lord knows it's very possible that there could be other members in this body whose information is sought by the Justice Department," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday. "We should use this opportunity to set forth some principles so everyone's rights are respected."
    In short, her objections are *procedural* in this situation, and she's using the opportunity to structure what the FBI does to make sure they A) *can* get the corrupt critters and B) have limits on what they can do and how they can do it to defend against harassment searches.
    I agree with Mark. We have good reason to be wary of FBI/Federal police powers and actions. We also have reason to want criminal politicians to be apprehended. It is a balancing act.

  5. How quickly things change. Mark, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that it's "Mark Kleiman and the House Democrats and House Republicans vs. the Bush DoJ and FBI, with the President trying to find some middle ground"? I mean, you did side with Congress, didn't you?
    There's an interesting story here, but it isn't at all the one you'd suggest. Your partisanship has now overwhelmed whatever critical faculties you had. The interesting story is the remarkable independence the Bush DoJ has had to investigate public corruption, despite the fact that much of the corruption (though obviously not all, as the Jefferson case and the Democratic reaction to it has demonstrated) is Republican. The differences from the Clinton DoJ couldn't be more stark. And now, after this remarkable record, when the President sides with the DoJ, but offers an olive branch to those who suggest in good faith that the Jefferson search violated some norm of separation of powers by offering to hold apart at the DoJ(but pointedly not return) this evidence–not any other evidence, but only this evidence, involving a Democrat, not a Republican–that is, when the President listens to Mark, Mark effectively calls for his impeachment.
    Mark, any other areas of policy that, should the president agree with you about, you'd call for his resignation? I mean, let's get your incoherence out in the open up front.

  6. "when the President listens to Mark, Mark effectively calls for his impeachment."
    Remarkably poor reading skills.
    "The differences from the Clinton DoJ couldn't be more stark."
    Ahh, never mind, Thomas's comment was just blindly partisan.

  7. Rilkefan, based on Thomas's record at Crooked Timber, he's certainly doing it on purpose. All you need to know about his views on public integrity is contained in this thread, where he describes Watergate as a "legal coup"; all that you need to know about his manners is contained in his response to you.

  8. Analogizing this to the Saturday Night Massacre is one of the all-time worst political analogies I have ever seen.
    Robert Mueller as Archibald Cox?
    Alberto Gonzales as Elliott Richardson?
    Let me propose this hypothetical. Suppose that William Jefferson had evidence in his office of corruption by contractors involved in the reconstruction of New Orleans. Halliburton. KBR.
    Suppose that the President ordered that evidence be seized to prevent its exposure. Suppose that he didn't anticipate the congressional firestorm and felt obliged to parlay while he tried to figure out what to do next. Suppose that Gonzales and Mueller, realizing that exposure of what they had seized from Jefferson's office could make it clear they were engaged in criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.
    Wouldn't they do more or less what they are doing?
    Now, of course, this is hypothetical. But since we know so little about what is really going on here, could we hold the historical applesauce until we get a bit of a taste?

  9. I'd be careful about picking sides too early in this one. It looks to me like it's shaping up to be a monumnental struggle between bad and evil.

  10. Any chance somebody could finesse this to get access to Congressional records in exchange for access to the Cheney task force records?

  11. Folks, let's not forget the "play nice" rules. So far, this site has about the most polite and intelligent comments section of any political site I read, but we all need to cooperate to keep that record going.
    I'll cut commenters who criticize me a certain amount of rhetorical slack as far as those criticisms go, but when they start insulting other commenters I'll be ruthless in excising their comments. And much as I appreciate those who rise to my defense, please keep your defenses substantive and printable: i.e., try to be like us and not like them.
    Rabbi Yeshua bar Joseph (der Nazerener Rebbe) says: "Whoever says to his brother 'thou fool!' will inherit Gehinnom." Out of deference to R. Yeshua, then, the term "fool" as applied to a poster or commenter is hereby made taboo.
    And although, as Will Rogers said, "We're all ignorant, only about different things," therefore rendering "ignorant" pointless as an insult, in fact "ignorant" and "ignorance" are usually used as terms of abuse rather than description, and are therefore banned here as applied to other participants.

  12. Seems to me this episode is validating Jemmy Madison's clever design of self-righting lifeboats. Organs of state like the DOJ have an institutional ethos that follows their mandate, in this case enforcing the laws. For a while, in the American system this can be overridden by the political agenda of a strong president, applying the royalist "unitary executive" theory. In a second term all presidents become lame ducks, this one sooner rather than later, and the institutional mandate reasserts itself.
    The DHS in contrast was set up by Bush. If it has has an ethos beyond cluelessness, it's a royalist one. So I predict it will stay capsized.

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