Hastert tells President Bush FBI raid was unconstitutional
Hastert tells President Bush FBI raid was
By Patrick OConnor
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told President
Bush yesterday that he is concerned the Federal Bureau
of Investigations (FBI) raid on Rep. William
Jeffersons (D-La.) congressional office over the
weekend was a direct violation of the Constitution.
Hastert raised concerns that the FBIs unannounced
seizure of congressional documents during a raid of
Jeffersons 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 Investigations raid over the
weekend, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said yesterday
in confirming his bosss 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,
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 FBIs raid on
In the Speakers 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
[were] 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 thats whats
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 Hasterts 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 Hasterts 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, Thats 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 shouldnt, Boehner said.
But after repeated questions, the majority leader
expressed his full reservations about the Justice
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.