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Hastert tells President Bush FBI raid was unconstitutional

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/052406/jefferson.html Hastert tells President Bush FBI raid was unconstitutional By Patrick
    Message 1 of 1 , May 23, 2006

      Hastert tells President Bush FBI raid was
      By Patrick O’Connor

      House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told President
      Bush yesterday that he is concerned the Federal Bureau
      of Investigation’s (FBI) raid on Rep. William
      Jefferson’s (D-La.) congressional office over the
      weekend was a direct violation of the Constitution.

      Hastert raised concerns that the FBI’s unannounced
      seizure of congressional documents during a raid of
      Jefferson’s Rayburn office Saturday night violated the
      separation of powers between the two branches of
      government as they are defined by the Constitution.

      “The Speaker spoke candidly with the president about
      the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s raid over the
      weekend,” Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said yesterday
      in confirming his boss’s remarks.

      Hastert told reporters yesterday that he understands
      the reasons for the investigation but objected to the
      manner in which the raid was conducted.

      “My opinion is they took the wrong path,” Hastert
      said. “They need to back up, and we need to go from

      Republican objections are independent of any facts in
      the corruption probe against Jefferson. Their
      complaints pertain solely to constitutional questions
      about the raid itself.

      The issue is not clear-cut for both parties.
      Republicans have repeatedly cited the Jefferson probe
      as an example of Democratic malfeasance in the face of
      charges about their own “culture of corruption.” On
      the Democratic side of the aisle, the investigation
      itself undermines the effectiveness of their efforts
      to tar Republicans with the corruption issue.

      Jefferson is being investigated to see if he
      influenced legislation in exchange for a number of
      elaborate, illegal payment schemes, including a single
      cash payment of $100,000, most of which was discovered
      in his freezer during a later raid of his home.

      Calling the Saturday-night raid an “invasion of the
      legislative branch,” House Majority Leader John
      Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted the case would eventually
      be resolved in the Supreme Court and hinted that
      Congress would take further action. The majority
      leader said Hastert would take the lead on the issue
      because he is the chief constitutional officer in the

      “I am sure there will be a lot more said about this,”
      Boehner said.

      The Jefferson raid is the most recent flare-up between
      Congress and the White House. In a statement
      distributed Monday night, Hastert made it clear that
      he was not given a heads-up about the FBI’s raid on
      Jefferson’s office.

      In the Speaker’s lengthy statement, Hastert complained
      that the seizure of legislative papers, no matter how
      innocuous, was a violation of the “the principles of
      Separation of Powers, the independence of the
      Legislative Branch, and the protections afforded by
      the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution.”

      Hastert also singled out Attorney General Alberto
      Gonzales in that statement: “It would appear that the
      Attorney General himself was aware that Separation of
      Powers concerns existed … because in seeking the
      warrant the FBI suggested to the judge procedures it
      would follow to deal with Constitutionally protected

      During a news conference with reporters, Gonzales
      defended the FBI raid but said he and leaders on the
      Hill are involved in private discussions about “what
      can be done to alleviate” lawmakers’ concerns.

      “I obviously — personally, and the Department
      collectively — we have a great deal of respect for the
      Congress as a coequal branch of government, as a
      separate and independent branch of government, and
      [we’re] obviously sensitive to their concerns,” he

      He noted that discussion to try to address lawmakers’
      concerns began Monday evening and continued yesterday.

      “We respectfully, of course, disagree with the
      characterization by some,” Gonzales said. “We believe
      … we have been very careful, very thorough in our
      pursuit of criminal wrongdoing, and that’s what’s
      going on here. We have an obligation to the American
      people to pursue the evidence where it exists.”

      Congress has both investigative and budgetary
      oversight of the executive branch, but there was no
      word as of press time about oversight hearings into
      the raid or its constitutionality.

      Democrats were supportive of Hastert’s criticism and
      appear to support the Speaker in pursuing further

      “No member of Congress is above the law,” House
      Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters
      yesterday. “I am concerned about the unprecedented
      exercising of authority over a separate branch of
      government and the execution of a search warrant
      without any communication with the leadership of this

      Hoyer said he agrees with Hastert’s concerns and was
      less than defensive of Jefferson.

      “The institution has a right to protect itself against
      the executive branch going into our offices and
      violating what is the Speech and Debate Clause that
      essentially says, ‘That’s none of your business,
      executive branch,’” Hoyer said.

      During his own briefing, Boehner joked with reporters
      that he was withholding his own strong reservations
      about the raid because of a staff request that he do

      “I would like to say more, but I have been advised by
      my advisers that I shouldn’t,” Boehner said.

      But after repeated questions, the majority leader
      expressed his full reservations about the Justice
      Department’s action.

      “When I raise my right hand and swear to uphold the
      Constitution of the United States, I mean it,” Boehner
      said, referring to the oath members take at the
      beginning of each Congress. “[Justice Department
      employees] take the same oath, so somebody better
      start reading the Constitution down there.”

      Leaders in both parties have said this is the first
      time in the 219-year history of the United States that
      the Justice Department has taken these actions.
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