For a long time, Democrats have been picking on President Bush -- "King George" -- for "consolidating executive authority" and usurping legislative authority, not to mention tons of other things. But he does himself no favors by ordering that documents seized from Representative William Jefferson's office be sealed for 45 days.
Jefferson is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he accepted a bribe from two people -- who have already entered guilty pleas -- to promote a high-tech business venture. Authorities say they have a videotape of Jefferson receiving a $100,000 bribe and that they found $90,000 in cash in a freezer at his Washington D.C. apartment.
Last Saturday night, the FBI, with a duly executed search warrant in hand, entered and searched Jefferson's Capitol Hill office and seized a number of his documents. Members of both parties of Congress expressed outrage at what they claim is an egregious violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
The FBI, of course, is part of the executive branch. The congressmen's objection is that for an agency of the executive branch to raid the office of a member of the legislative branch, constitutes a dangerous executive encroachment on the legislature. They say this is the first search of a congressman's Capitol office in the more than two centuries since the first Congress convened.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a nearly unprecedented joint statement condemning the FBI raid and demanding that the FBI return the documents.
With all due respect, these claims are preposterous, and I don't believe President Bush should have intervened, even if just to provide a cooling-off period. There are principles worth vindicating here, and compromise for the sake of short-term harmony can sometimes damage those principles.
While congressmen can loftily assert that the separation of powers principle is at play here, I disagree. To argue that the separation of powers doctrine grants immunity from official search and seizure to members of the legislative branch is a slap in the face to another lofty and indispensable concept: the rule of law.