As John wrote a few days back, William Jefferson was one of the worst Democrats in the House even before he started hiding bribes in the freezer. Now he's a drag on his party and a disgrace to his district--which happens to represent much of storm-ravaged New Orleans.
Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi rightly asked Jefferson to resign from his seat on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson refused, writing: "I will not give up a committee assignment that is so vital to New Orleans at this crucial time for any uncertain political strategy."
What an absurd defense. If Jefferson cared about adequately representing the residents of New Orleans, he wouldn't have taken bribes to enrich himself and crooked politicians in Nigeria. As the government's case against him intensifies, how can he possibly represent his constituents effectively? Isn't helping to rebuild New Orleans enough of a full time job?
As John Maginnis, editor of the Louisiana Political Fax Weekly, told the Washington Post: "It's not a very good reflection on the state to have your congressman accused of taking bribes at the same time Louisianans are trying to get money out of the federal government."
Now, more than ever, New Orleans deserves better.
Best performance on American Idol's finale: Prince--preening, prancing and dancing.
Most astounding fact: 63.4 million votes were cast for the two finalists. Show host Ryan Seacrest boasted this was "more than any president in the history of our country has received. "
One blogger semi-facetiously suggested that maybe we should just cast votes in the next Presidential election via cell phone and text messaging. (And what, have the NSA do the vote count?) Idol's "elections" are already the focus of charges of fraud and voting manipulation. (In 2004, after millions of potential voters weren't able to register their choices in the final round when regional phone systems were swamped by the number of calls, Broadcasting & Cable magazine called the Idol voting system "about as reliable as Florida's in the 2000 Presidential election.")
This year--with suspicion more muted--Alabama's very own Taylor Hicks won. (Thereby confirming Judge Simon Cowell's prediction and ensuring that Cowell will become even more delightfully insufferable next year. ) Hicks--who the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes likens to Captain Kangaroo--fervently thanked his "Soul Patrol" supporters who rooted for him. His victory, which kept up the South's winning streak on the show, has already inspired a wave of blogs like the one I read last night, " Aladamnabama has all the kick ass people in it. This just helps prove it."
Just what we need. Pop/rock culture Southern triumphalism.
Last night it was worth sitting through a cheesy celebration of high powered karaoke and corporate plugs to watch the grand talent assembled on stage to sing along with the Idols--Mary J. Blige. Toni Braxton. Al Jarreau. Live. Meatloaf. Burt Bacharach. Dionne Warwick. And, of course, Prince was in the building.
If there actually was an opposition party in Washington, the nomination of Air Force General Michael Hayden to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency would have been doomed from the start.
Hayden's involvement as head of the National Security Agency with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program initiated by the Bush administration, his role in the secret accumulation of the phone records of tens of millions of Americans for surveillance purposes, his unapologetic rejection of the rule of law and his limited acquaintance with the Constitution would surely have stalled his nomination. And the fact that a member of the military should not head the civilian intelligence agency that is charged with provided unbiased information to elected officials – as opposed to the Pentagon line – would have finished Hayden off.
In the face of a united Democratic opposition, a sufficient number of Senate Republicans, ill at ease with the administration's reckless approach and increasingly concerned about the damage President Bush and his aides are doing to their party's credibility and political prospects, would have abandoned Hayden.
Unfortunately, there is no opposition party in Washington.
There is, instead, a Democratic Party that, when push comes to shove regularly allows itself to be shoved.
So it come as little surprise that Hayden's nomination has sailed through the Senate, winning approval Friday by a 78-15 vote. Most Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, joined the vast majority of Republicans in rubberstamping George W. Bush's poke-in-the-eye pick to head the CIA.
The die was cast when the Hayden nomination was considered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Four Democrats who should know better – California's Dianne Feinstein, West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, Michigan's Carl Levin and Maryland's Barbara Mikulski -- voted with the united Republican majority to approve the appointment. Then, the Senate Armed Committee casually voted to reappoint Hayden as a four-star general, a move that effectively signaled surrender in the debate over whether the CIA should be headed by a military man.
In this disappointing scenario, it should be noted that a handful of Democrats did attempt to check and balance a lawless president by refusing to support his equally lawless nominee. Voting against Hayden's nomination were Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Hillary Clinton of New York, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Intriguingly, the dissident Democrats were joined in their opposition to Hayden by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who has been increasingly restive regarding the administration's assault on basic freedoms.
Predictably, the Senate's most diligent critic of the administration's reckless disregard for the rule of law was the most outspoken objector to Hayden's nomination.
"I voted against the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be Director of the CIA because I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress's oversight responsibilities," explained Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who bluntly declared that, "as Director of the NSA, General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge."
"Our country needs a CIA Director who is committed to fighting terrorism aggressively without breaking the law or infringing on the rights of Americans. General Hayden's role in implementing and publicly defending the warrantless surveillance program does not give me confidence that he is capable of fulfilling this important responsibility," explained Feingold, who cast one of the three dissenting votes when the Hayden nomination was considered by the intelligence committee.
Noting that Hayden had failed in his testimony before the Intelligence Committee to express any reservations about the administration past misdeeds, that the general had evidenced little respect for congressional oversight and that he gave misleading testimony to the Intelligence Committee in 2002, Feingold concluded that, "The stakes are high. Al Qaeda and its affiliates seek to destroy us. We must fight back and we must join this fight together, as a nation. But when Administration officials ignore the law and ignore the other branches of government, it distracts us from fighting our enemies. I am disappointed that the President decided to make such a controversial nomination at this time. While I defer to Presidents in considering nominations to positions in the executive branch, I cannot vote for a nominee whose conduct raises such troubling questions about his adherence to the rule of law."
If there actually was an opposition party in Washington, Feingold's position would be its official stance. Instead, the man who has fought a lonely battle to censure the president for initiating and maintaining an illegal domestic surveillance program, is still dismissed by most of his fellow Democrats as too aggressive, too principled, too committed to the Constitution. So it goes, as the majority of Feingold's Democratic colleagues continue to promote the nominations and the policies of a failed president who polls tell us now has the approval of less than one-third of Americans.
If it were up to me, we'd keep religion and politics completely apart. I think one of the best things about America is the idea of the wall between church and state. But it's not a perfect world and the religious right has become a potent political force over the last twenty years. So it makes sense for spiritual progressives to organize as a counter-weight.
Historically, elements of organized religion have been at the center of fights for social justice, and many contemporary progressives of faith are drawing from the rich and varied tapestry of faith-based activism. Think the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Or Malcolm X's embrace of Islam. Or the liberation theologians of Latin America. Or the large Quaker involvement in the nuclear freeze movement. Or the anti-poverty work of the Catholic Worker movement. In many social movements of the last 100 years, people of faith have played an important role.
So it was extremely encouraging to see more than 1,200 people signed up for the Spiritual Activism Conference in Washington, DC, where I spent some of last week. Held in the historic All Souls Church, founded in 1821 by John Quincy Adams and later used for meetings by Eleanor Roosevelt because it was one of the few places in the District which welcomed interracial gatherings, the event was organized by the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a group co-founded by Michael Lerner, Cornel West and Joan Chittister.
A coalition of people from many faiths, the NSP is trying to incorporate new values into daily decision-making; to challenge the misuse of faith by the Religious Right, and to address the anti-religious bias within parts of the progressive community. (The new Spiritual Covenant with America offers a broad outline of the new network's goals and objectives.)
Conceived and organized by Lerner and his extremely efficient Tikkun magazine staff for the second time, the conference featured four charged days of passionate and engaged conversation about how to better the world (and ourselves) plus a morning of lobbying on the Hill and a raft of networking opportunities with people looking to forge links to a better world. The decent media coverage of the proceedings is a testament to the event organizers who put something together that simply could not be ignored. And it wasn't! There were reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, the Seattle Times and Miami Herald, among other outlets.
Memorable speakers included the dynamic Jim Wallis, a fire-breathing liberal evangelical and founding editor of Sojourners magazine; the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, a powerful orator currently serving as the chairman of the Hip-Hop Caucus in Washington, DC; Matthew Fox, a member of the Dominican Order in good standing for 34 years until he was expelled by Pope Benedict XVI, who was a cardinal and the Vatican's chief inquisitor at the time; Mohandas K. Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, who is making every effort to spread the message of his grandfather; Rev. William Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Jim Moran.
One group that impressed me was Cross Left, which works to galvanize progressive activism among young Christians. The idea is to build social networks where young people can share ideas, information, and resources. The group trains student speakers, sends progressive Christian speakers to universities, schools, and political conferences nationwide, puts organizations in touch with possible funders and imparts good lessons aimed at doing a lot with a little.
I also checked out a workshop with some folks from Creating a Culture of Peace, a new training program that prepares people to respond nonviolently, but militantly, to instances of injustice and repression. Listening to their history of non-violent direct action made it clear that pacificists are some of the toughest people around.
Two of the best policy proposals came from Lerner:
1) A Global Marshall Plan, which calls for the US to lead all advanced industrial nations in making a 20-year commitment of five percent of GDP to end world poverty. The money would not be committed to governments, but to NGOs with solid records. Not a bad place to start.
2) A Social Responsibility Amendment to the Constitution that would mandate that any corporation that nets in excess of 50 billion dollars annually would be required to renew its tax charter each decade before a panel of citizens. This would, in theory, give civil society some leverage over massive corporations who were profiting from, say, activities harmful to the environment.
These two policy ideas help form the basis of the spiritual-progressive platform that was put forth by the conference. And there were many more. If you missed the proceedings but want to get in on the NSP, the best thing to do is to buy the DVDs of what you missed--they'll be available on Tikkun's website shortly, read Lerner's new book, which offers the best distillation of the ideas animating this incipient movement, and click here to get on the Network's mailing list
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Al Gore's new film, An Inconvenient Truth, which finally hits theatersthis week, makes the case with devastating clarity: globalwarming is not a distant threat, but an immediate crisis alreadyunderway.
In Alaska, one of the frontlines of the climate crisis, residents areincreasingly feeling the heat. According to Deborah Williams of AlaskaConservation solutions, Alaska's annual temperatures have increased3 to 5 degrees and its winter temperatures have skyrocketed by 7 to 10degrees. In the past two years, Alaska has seen record-breaking levelsof ice melting and glacier retreating. "In other words, we are themelting tip of the iceberg," says Williams. "Or, better yet, we arethe Paul Reveres of global warming – 'Take action: the BTUs arecoming.'"
And now, thanks largely to Williams' painstaking efforts, Alaska isofficially taking on the Revere role in the fight against globalwarming. On May 9, the Alaskan legislature passed HR30, which createsa commission to analyze and assess the impacts of climate change onAlaska, and develop preventative measures for Alaskan governments andcommunities--as well as the federal government--to implement. Thecreation of the eleven-person Alaska Climate Impact AssessmentCommission (four elected officials and seven appointed environmentalexperts) garnered unanimous support in both houses, despite thestrongly conservative climate of Alaskan politics.
"The Commission's findings [which will be released next March] will bea critical part of the national wake-up call," says Williams. "Thisdemonstrates that even a predominantly conservative legislature cancome together, unanimously, and agree to address one of the greatestthreats we are facing: global fever."
The bill was championed by Representative Reggie Joule and SenatorDonnie Olson, both of Western Alaska, where communities are beinghardest hit by melting glaciers and rising temperatures. Williams'organization, Alaska Conservation Solutions, worked with a broadcoalition including the Alaska Conservation Voters, the AlaskaConservation Foundation, Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, andprofessors from the University of Alaska.
"If the legislature in Alaska can embrace the need to tackle globalwarming," says Williams, "then advocates in every state should feelemboldened to ask their legislatures to do the same."
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Jimmy Carter has been blunt: Despite the fact of a Palestinian election result that was not to their liking, the former president says, "it is unconscionable for Israel, the United States and others under their influence to continue punishing the innocent and already persecuted people of Palestine."
Since the political wing of the militant group Hamas swept parliamentary elections in Palestine, the U.S. and Israel have been trying to use economic pressure to force a change of course. Disregarding the democracy that President Bush says he wants to promote in the Middle East, the U.S. has sanctioned policies that have fostered chaos on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and created increasingly harsh conditions for people who have known more than their share of suffering.
"Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime," argues Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose involvement in the Middle East peace process has extended across three decades. "Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life."
Instead of checking and balancing the president's misguided approach to an election result that displeased him, Congress has added fuel to the fire.
By a lopsided vote of 361 to 37, the House voted Tuesday for the so-called "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act," a measure so draconian that even the Bush administration has opposed it.
The legislation, which still must be reconciled with a similar measure passed by the Senate, would cut off all assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, and place conditions on humanitarian assistance delivered directly to the Palestinians by non-government organizations. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow, in restating the White House's opposition to the measure says that it "unnecessarily constrains" the flow of essential assistance – food, fresh water, medicine – in a manner that does, indeed, "tie the president's hand" when it comes to providing humanitarian aid.
It also has the potential to encourage, rather than restrain, violence.
Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who was one of the few members of the House to argue against the legislation, correctly explained that the approach endorsed by most of his colleagues will strengthen the hand of Palestinian extremists.
"It does little to prioritize on the basis of our strategic interests, and provides no prospect for Palestinian reform coming through the process of negotiations," Blumenauer said of the legislation. "In so doing, it weakens the hands of those who advocate for peace negotiations, and supports those extremists who believe in violence."
Debra DeLee, President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, which works closely with Israeli groups seeking a peaceful settlement of tensions with the Palestinians, calls the bill "an exercise in overreaching that will undercut American national security needs, Israeli interests, and hope for the Palestinian people, if it's ever signed into law."
"We urged the House to craft legislation that was focused and flexible enough to allow the U.S. to respond to Hamas' election victory in a firm, yet responsible, manner," explained a frustrated DeLee. "But by failing to provide the president with a real national security waiver, by failing to include a sunset clause for draconian performance requirements that will stay on the books regardless of who is running the Palestinian Authority, and by failing to distinguish between Hamas and Palestinians who support a two-state solution, the supporters of this bill have missed that opportunity for now."
Despite its dramatic flaws, the bill drew bipartisan support, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, lining up their respective caucuses behind it.
Of the 37 "no" votes, 31 came from Democrats, including senior members such as Michigan's John Conyers and John Dingell, Californians George Miller and Pete Stark and Wisconsin's David Obey. Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, a contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, also opposed the measure, as did California's Barbara Lee, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
The six Republican "no" votes came from Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest, North Carolina's Walter Jones, Arizona's Jim Kolbe, Illinois' Ray LaHood and Texans Ron Paul and Mac Thornberry.
As is frequently the case on votes involving Israel and Palestine, dozens of members did not participate. Nine House members, all of them Democrats, voted "present" Tuesday. Twenty-five members, eleven of them Democrats, fourteen of them Republicans, registered no vote.
Americans for Peace Now's DeLee says that, as the House and Senate seek to reconcile differing bills, her group will continue to work to alter the legislation so that it will not encourage extremism or worsen a humanitarian crisis. But there is no question that the task has been made more difficult by the overwhelming House vote in favor of this misguided measure.
At least Bill Frist will have something to fall back on when that presidential run doesn't pan out: operating on gorillas.
Just look at these cute pictures. Wearing safari-themed scrubs, the robotic Frist almost seems lovable. "Gorillas, people, men," Frist tells the Washington Post while operating on the 350-pound Kuja. "You look at the people here, a symphonic flow of people pitching in. It's the oneness of humanity."
He sounds like a new age James Dobson. It almost makes one forget about Terri Schiavo. At least this time when Frist gave a diagnosis, he examined the patient.
"Frist lifted Kuja's huge, leathery black hand," writes Laura Blumenfeld. "Williams, the dentist, said, 'Take him with you to the Senate, so when Biden or Kennedy mouth off, you can turn him loose.'"
"'He's on my side,'" Frist said, stroking Kuja's fur."
Better a gorilla than the American people.
This week Wal-Mart announced a gift of half a million dollars to help protect 28,000 acres of forest in Idaho and Washington, as part of the company's ongoing Acres for America program, run in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The first thing to be said about this move -- and, more broadly, Wal-Mart's involvement in Acres for America -- is, of course, that it's good for the forests, and shows that by relentlessly criticizing a company, activists can force it to do some decent things. However, I couldn't help recalling a recent conversation with Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, author of The Home-Town Advantage.
When I asked Mitchell, some months back, what she thought of Wal-Mart's environment-friendly gestures,she said that the best thing for the planet would be for Wal-Mart to stop building new stores. Noting that the company was adding millions of square feet of new retail space, most of which would be built on cheap land outside of town centers, necessitating millions of additional car trips for consumers, Mitchell compared the company's simultaneous environmentalism to "the person who buys a car that is 25 percent more fuel efficient and then drives it twice as much, and expects us to applaud."
Speaking of driving, I noticed an interesting little "public service announcement" on walmartfacts.com, the website set up by the company to diffuse progressive criticism. Gas prices and global warming got you down? Don't even think about getting out of that car; just motor on over to Wal-Mart and get your tire pressure checked.
This seems to be the environmental non-solution du jour. (Though, actually, there's a plethora of competitors: how about those Starbucks ads empowering us to buy more efficient lightbulbs?) Just yesterday, former Wal-Mart director Hillary Clinton attempted to steal Al Gore's thunder on global warming with a breathtakingly unimpressive energy speech. (Gore's global warming movie opens in New York tonight.) Like Wal-Mart, Hillary urges us to take action against global warming by checking those tires. Pathetic.
Note to Alberto Gonzales: there is a reason it's the FIRST Amendment. Nevertheless, on Sunday the attorney general played the ever-reliable ace up the administration's sleeve to throw even freedom of the press into question.
Gonzales stated on ABC's This Week, "… it can't be that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity."
When in doubt, scare the bejeezus out of the American people.
The only way to beat the bad guys is to [fill in the blank]… torture… engage in domestic spying… use black sites… and now, perhaps, prosecute journalists who uncover the truth about the Bush administration's programs that are laying waste to our constitutional rights and freedoms. By this logic, what can't the executive branch do?
Gonzales commented on going after reporters who publish leaked classified information, "There are some statutes on the books which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility…. We have an obligation to enforce those laws."
Seems the entire administration was taught to read by George Bush.
The statute Gonzales obliquely alludes to is the 1917 Espionage Act. James Goodale, one of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the nation, writes that in order to indict journalists under this law, "[It] would require activating a relic from the Espionage Act…. The law is meant to prevent the publication of how the U.S. breaks codes…. It is so broad, in fact, it is probably unconstitutional. For this reason and others, the NSA or CIA has never used it against the press."
But the Bush Administration has other ideas, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman recently pointed out: "As its poll numbers fall, the Bush Administration is ratcheting up its war against the media to hide its massive failure to defend the nation's security and uphold the laws of its Constitution." An added absurdity is that, "… Administration officials decide which classified information they, personally, are entitled to leak and which information they can try to suppress, even to the point of threatening jail."
So, when the administration wants to leak the name of a covert CIA operative to the press, that's fine and dandy. And if it wants to prosecute reporters who are exposing dangerous abuses of power– nothing troubling about that either.
The bottom line is this: to the Bush administration, our rights and freedoms are a matter of convenience subject to their review. And they simply don't want the press meddling in their affairs. But if we are to preserve our rights and liberties, then meddle we must.
No one seriously believes that William Jefferson is going to survive the political train wreck he has made of his congressional career. Even the notoriously forgiving voters of New Orleans – who just reelected gaffe-prone Mayor Ray Nagin – are not going to be comfortable with a congressman who hid $90,000 in cash in his refrigerator and got caught on an FBI tape talking about taking bribes.
The question now is whether the system of checks and balances established by the founders in 1787 will be another victim of the train wreck.
When Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided Jefferson's suite of offices in the Rayburn House Office Building, they committed an act unheard of even in the darkest days of the Republic. On orders from the executive branch, federal agents entered the office of a member of the legislative branch and spent hours going through that office and removing materials they deemed necessary to an investigation.
Even House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who has been no great friend of the Constitution, awakened from the comatose state that has usually characterized his response to White House assaults on the system of checks and balances.
Hastert boldly defended the founding document and the Congress he is charged with maintaining as a separate and equal branch of government. The Speaker reportedly telling the president that the raid on Jefferson's office was a direct violation of the Constitution – in general, of the principle of separation of powers, and in particular of the protections afforded the legislative branch by the "Speech and Debate" clause of the Constitution.
In a lengthy statement of concern, Hastert argued that, "The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case. Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress. Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years."
Is this just a tempest in Teapot Dome that is our corrupt Capitol? No. Not even the most Constitutionally-abusive administrations dared go so far as to raid congressional offices. It is true that John Adams, in his push to narrowly define the Constitution at the outset of the American experiment, did jail a congressional critic, Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon, for suggesting that the second president had displayed "a continual grasp for power [and] unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation and selfish avarice." But Adams, who would be voted out of office for his disregard Constitution, never dared dispatch armed officers to the Capitol.
Stung by the criticism of its overreach, the Bush administration has scrambled to suggest that what is at issue is merely the wrongdoing of one congressman. But they conveniently neglect to address the precedent that will be established if Congress fails to challenge the White House and the Department of Justice.
If this was just about Jefferson, the raid would not have stirred an outcry. Every indication is that the Louisianan congressman has betrayed his oath of office and abused the privileges of his position in ways that would make Tom DeLay blush.
But this is not just about Jefferson, who would be in plenty of trouble even without whatever information might have been garnered from the raid on his office. Remember, the FBI has the congressman on tape making classically incriminating comments.
This is about an executive branch that has already pushed the limits of its power on issues ranging from invading and occupying countries without a declaration of war to spying on Americans without a warrant and is now undermining whatever remains of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of powers between the White House and the Congress.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel who never encountered a law he wasn't willing to break in order to extend the powers of the president he has served far more diligently than he has ever served his country, can described the search as "a unique step in response to a unique set of circumstances."
With all due respect to Gonzales, the attorney general has a troubling track record of repeatedly responding to "unique sets of circumstances" in a manner that shreds the Constitution. And he has surely done so in this case.
Instead of working with congressional authorities, Gonzales got a judge to authorize the raid and, for the first time in the American history sending agents of the executive branch into action against a member of the legislative branch.
To their credit, Republican leaders of the House have reacted with appropriate fury.
Speculating about "whether people at the Justice Department have looked at the Constitution" lately, House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared that "Congress will clearly speak to the issue of the Justice Department invasion of the legislative branch."In explaining the character of that defense, Boehner said, "I've got to believe at the end of the day it's going to end up across the street at the Supreme Court. I don't see anything short of that."Hastert left no doubt that he saw the need to address the issues raised by the raid as essential to the maintenance of the provisions of the Constitution written to protect the independence of the Congress.
"The Founding Fathers were very careful to establish in the Constitution a Separation of Powers to protect Americans against the tyranny of any one branch of government. They were particularly concerned about limiting the power of the Executive Branch," explained the speaker. "Every Congressional Office contains certain Legislative Branch documents that are protected by the Constitution. This protection-as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held-is essential to guarantee the independence of the Legislative Branch. No matter how routine and non-controversial any individual Legislative Branch document might be, the principles of Separation of Powers, the independence of the Legislative Branch, and the protections afforded by the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution must be respected in order to prevent overreaching and abuse of power by the Executive Branch."
Hastert needs to wage this battle. And he ought not be mocked for the seriousness with which he has approached it.
This is an essential fight over whether a president and his minions can do as they please. To be sure, in this dark interregnum, it is not the only fight, as has been well noted by Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, and others in their struggle to hold this administration to account for its illegal domestic surveillance program. But if the legislative branch does not push back at the point when agents of the executive branch are raiding the offices of congressmen without the ascent of the Congress, then surely there is no chance that the separation of powers protection will be asserted with regard to the many other Constitutional abuses committed by this administration.