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Gonzales Would Have Quit if Ordered to Relinquish Jefferson Docs

Updated

The New York Times is reporting that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials and federal prosecutors would have all quit if President Bush had ordered the DOJ to relinquish the seized Jefferson documents.

WASHINGTON, May 26 -- Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday.


Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress.

The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.

The evidence was seized by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last Saturday night in a search of the office of Representative William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana. The search set off an uproar of protest by House leaders in both parties, who said the intrusion by an executive branch agency into a Congressional office violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine. They demanded that the Justice Department return the evidence.

The possibility of resignations underscored the gravity of the crisis that gripped the Justice Department as the administration grappled with how to balance the pressure from its own party on Capitol Hill against the principle that a criminal investigation, especially one involving a member of Congress, should be kept well clear of political considerations.

It is not clear precisely what message Mr. Gonzales delivered to Mr. Bush when they met Thursday morning at the White House, or whether he informed the president of the resignation talk. But hours later, the White House announced that the evidence would be sealed for 45 days in the custody of the solicitor general, the Justice Department official who represents the government before the Supreme Court. That arrangement ended the talk of resignations.

F.B.I. officials would not comment Friday on Mr. Mueller's thinking or on whether his views had been communicated to the president.

And they would have been fully justified. The FBI is expected to investigate federal crimes regardless of where the evidence leads them. A Congressperson's office is not a safe haven from investigation or searches.

The argument that the search of Jefferson's office was inappropriate or wrong because it was the first search of a Congressional office by a federal investigator in the 219 years is a ridiculous one. As I said earlier, simply because a Congressional office has not been searched before doesn't mean it can't be searched when a valid search warrant was issued by a federal judge.

Update: The AP is reporting that President Bush decided to call for a 45 day cooling off period regarding Rep. Jefferson's seized documents when the House threatened "budgetary retaliation" against the DOJ.

WASHINGTON - The constitutional showdown that followed the FBI's search of a congressman's office came down to this: The House threatened budgetary retaliation against the Justice Department. Justice officials raised the prospect of resigning.


That scenario, as described Saturday by a senior administration official, set the stage for President Bush's intervention into the fight over the FBI's search of the office of Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record), D-La., an eight-term lawmaker being investigated on bribery allegations.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty, were said to be ready to quit if the Justice Department was asked to return the Jefferson documents, the senior administration official said on condition of anonymity. The resignation of FBI Director Robert Mueller also was implied, the official said.


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Comments (15)

This could get very interes... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

This could get very interesting with elections just a few months away.

The felon deserved to have ... (Below threshold)
virgo:

The felon deserved to have His office searched! the others just might have something to hide hmmmm??

I love this "its the first ... (Below threshold)

I love this "its the first time" BS. Sounds like a teen complaining after parents finally wised up and lowered the boom!

Any parents out there wanna give me another AMEN?!?

All bets are off. If this N... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

All bets are off. If this NYT article is true there is a category 5 political/corruption shit storm about to occur. The AG and the head of the FBI would not offer their resignations so lightly.

AMEN epador, although i don... (Below threshold)
virgo:

AMEN epador, although i dont have any teens yet, I agree.

Its interesting how these politicians seem to be interested in all these non important things such as the Plame deal, and at the same time ignore things like secure borders? how can they be so blind?

Hmmm, the Congress expects ... (Below threshold)
stan25:

Hmmm, the Congress expects the White House to give up all of it's papers on the slightest whim and for the flimiest excuse. It is not like the FBI wants to see what the people that elected these idiots to represent them in DC are saying.

When the Congress learned that the White House was listening to terrorists and their supporters phone calls, they went ballistic and demanded that every scrap of paper dealing with the mess.

Now when a Congress critter has been caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar and has ignored several subpoenas for papers pertaining to the case, that is okay. When the FBI serves a Constitutional search warrent, the Congress goes ballistic claiming seperation of powers. Does anyone see a glaring double standard here?

I don't think that "this is... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

I don't think that "this is the first time" is a valid argument to say that this search is illegal. But, it DOES mean that for the first time the courts may rule on this issue.

I guess they'll have to decide what the Constitution means when it says "They [Senators and Representatives] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."

Is this representative accussed of a felony? If so, does he need to be charged, or is accused enough? I can't say I've got a solid opinion about what the ruling ought to be on this. I'm somewhat satisfied that it's okay because there was a warrant. But I can't simply dismiss the words in the Constitution...I'd like to know exactly what they mean.

Also, we've got the broader issue of separation of powers. Is this an infringement on Congress, or a reasonable check on their power?

Interesting and complex issue.

I would have to say that if... (Below threshold)
virgo:

I would have to say that if its about Tom Delay there should be no separation of power issue, however if it were about say William Jefferson then You definetly cannot search or even imply guilt or You are a racist constitutional power grabber! thats how it looks to Me.

Is this representative a... (Below threshold)
stan25:

Is this representative accussed of a felony? If so, does he need to be charged, or is accused enough?

I would say that bribery is felony. That is what William Jefferson, Democrat Louisiana, is accused of. The is what the search of Jefferson's Congressional office was about--to obtain evidence to make the case against him more airtight and to arrest him on those charges.

Randy (Duke) Cunningham was prosecuted for bribery and rightly so. If William Jefferson, Democrat Louisiana, is not prosecuted--the courts should overturn Cunningham's conviction. That would only be fair. It would seem that the Democrats can get away with bribery and other crimes, while the Republicans get the axe, for just spitting on the sidewalk.

My understanding is that th... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

My understanding is that they've caught Jefferson red-handed. Anything they get in the raid would be gravy. So, I don't think this issue is about who's guilty or anything like that. It's about due process and the Constitution. Personally, I could go either way on this...

Also, nobody raided Cunningham's office. So that case didn't raise the same issues.

Hmmm? GWB: "Bring it on, De... (Below threshold)
RiverRat:

Hmmm? GWB: "Bring it on, Denny and Nancy!"

From all of the reports abo... (Below threshold)
stan25:

From all of the reports about the search, every T and every I was dottted at four times before the warrent was even executed. Then the FBI had set of back up people not even assoicated with the case look them over. Then these people had another team backing them up.

So this crap about the search being unconstitutional is pure Bullshit. The Congress have gotten away with demanding papers from everyone else for so long that they thought that nobody could touch them. The shoe has finally dropped on them and they aren't liking it one bit. Let 'em fart and fume for awhile and then really drop the hammer on them.

Separation of powers means ... (Below threshold)
ATM:

Separation of powers means that executive functions are vested in the executive branch. Prosecuting criminal activity is an executive power, even if it means prosecuting members of another branch of government. Congress can't prosecute anyone, including a member of congress. They can throw them out of Congress though.

Hmmm.Looks like a ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Looks like a LOT of members of Congress have something to be worried about.

Good.

Let's clear all of these bastards out. And let's start with the Senate.

My question is why is the F... (Below threshold)
ken harkins:

My question is why is the FBI not supposed to do this? Congress says this has never happened before. Perhaps this is because Congress has never been so corrupt before. (As a history teacher I can say this is probably not true.) I understand their subpoena was ignored for several months. Congress seems to be saying that subpoenas are too good for us but not good enough for them. Does congress believe they are above the law? Maybe so, after all Mark Twain wrote that America has no natural criminal class except Congress. However, there is one difference between Mark Twain's 19th century 'robber baron bought' Congress and today's Congress. Today's Congress appears to have been bought by foreigners. William Jefferson was bought by Nigerians. The rest of them seem have been bought by Mexicans. I hope enough Americans pay attention this election cycle.




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