Posted: May 26, 2006 12:01 AM
  • Republicans and Democrats in the House have their Congressional knickers in a Constitutional twist over the notion that the doctrine of "separation of powers" was fused by the FBI when they searched Congressman William Jefferson's (D-La) House office Saturday night.

  • The FBI had previously videotaped Jefferson taking $100,000 in cash from an informant then got a warrant to search his house where they found 90 grand of it hidden in a freezer.

  • Two of Jefferson's former aides have already pleaded guilty to bribery - of Congressman Jefferson.


    The videotaping of the payoff was done at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia which is the same hotel at which Linda Tripp audio taped a conversation with Monica Lewinsky at the behest of Ken Starr.

    TEACHING POINT: If you are preparing to do something illegal and the person with whom you are conspiring suggests you do the deal at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington … Don't.

    The FBI has permanent camera positions and microphone locations there.


  • In their "separation of powers" claim, the House leaders are making it sound as if this was done solely on the say-so of the Justice Department. In fact, the FBI (Executive Branch) had a warrant to search a Congressman's office (Legislative Branch) which was signed by a Federal judge (Judicial Branch).

  • Speaker Dennis Hastert is claiming the sanctity of Jefferson's office was violated because a Congressional offices are protected by what is known as the "speech and debate clause" in the Constitution.

  • According to Article I section 6:
    Senators and Representatives … shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest … and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

  • Careful readers will note that the actual Constitutional language is speech OR debate.

  • So sue me.

  • The Supreme Court has found - without much trouble - that taking a bribe to perform an official act is not protected under the speech OR debate clause. According to the Cornell University Law School's discussion:
    It is the fact of having taken a bribe, not the act the bribe is intended to influence, which is the subject of the prosecution and the speech-or-debate clause interposes no obstacle to this type of prosecution.

  • Congressional complaints about the "raid" by the FBI make it sound as if this was a black bag job. To the contrary, it appears that:
  • The Feds alerted the Capitol Police by perhaps as much as an hour prior to showing up on their doorstep.

  • The cops called House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, who called the Speakers' legal counsel, Ted VanDerMeid.

  • The FBI showed up with badges, paperwork and whatever they would have needed to open the locked office door at 2113 Rayburn.

  • (Someone in the House hierarchy had a spare key so there was, unfortunately, no need for a repeat of the Battering-Ram-Against-The-Church-Door scene from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.)

  • VanDerMeid called the Speaker's chief of staff Scott Palmer who, by midnight, was on the phone to the Executive Branch representing the concerns of the Legislative Branch.

  • As of this writing, it is not clear when Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi became aware of all the activity.

  • Fifteen hours after it began, the search was done.
  • According to the Associated Press, in the early 1990s the FBI got a warrant to search the chambers of a Federal judge also from Louisiana, also on a bribery charge.

  • There is no record of any Member of Congress protesting that action.

  • Nancy Pelosi - desperately trying to get traction on Republican "culture of corruption" as a campaign issue - asked Jefferson to voluntarily step down from his post on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

  • Jefferson said, in effect: "Nah."

  • Crying bayou-crocodile tears over the search of Jefferson's office puts Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi in the uncomfortable position of appearing to defend a perfectly despicable Member of Congress.

  • On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to CNN's coverage of the Jefferson case, and to the Cornell University Law page; the first in a new series of Mullfotos, and an excellent Catchy Caption of the Day.