California Congressman Darrell Issa is one of the most conservative Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee. So it should come as no surprise that he offered an appropriately cautious and responsible solution for the Constitutional conflict created when members of the Bush administration ordered federal agents to raid the Capitol Hill office of a sitting member of Congress.
“We have the power to impeach the attorney general,” Issa told Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing titled: “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”
Much of the Washington press corps, which maintains a familiarity with the Constitution that is roughly equivalent to its acquaintance with the truth, dismissed Issa’s suggestion that the committee might want to consider the ultimate political sanction for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The Washington Post’s lamentable Dana Milbank, who stands ever ready to ridicule any defense of the Constitution, huffed that the California congressman was being “dramatic.”
Dramatic? Let’s hope so, because the times are dramatic, and the concerns that have been raised by the raid on Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson’s office demand a response that is equal to them.
There is no question that Gonzales, a champion of executive overreach since his days as White House counsel, used the Constitution as a doormat when he ushered FBI agents into Jefferson’s office. The investigation of Jefferson, a Tom DeLay-sleazy member of the House who conveniently for the ever-political Gonzales happens to be a Democrat, had already yielded more than enough evidence of wrongdoing. The raid was, as George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley described it: a “gratuitous insult” motivated not by necessity but by “raw arrogance.”
The raid was, as well, what former Reagan Justice Department aide Bruce Fein said it to be during the Judiciary Committee hearing: “Unconstitutional.”
The whole concept of a separation of powers between equal branches of government demands that Congress respond aggressively and appropriately to the raid – not in defense of William Jefferson, but in defense of the principle that the executive branch does not have the authority to send its foot soldiers into the offices of the legislative branch.
If the precedent of the raid on Jefferson’s office stands, this administration – which has already signaled its intention to track down and prosecute whistleblowers and others who might dissent from its imperial impulses – will not stop in the office of one ethically-challenged congressman from Louisiana. And future administrations will retain, rather than return, the powers that have been seized.