Updated May 30, 2006 - As Congress and the Bush administration battle over the unprecedented raid of a House member’s office, top Justice Department officials have signaled they’d resign if ordered to turn over documents seized in the search of Rep. William Jefferson's offices.
The FBI searched Jefferson's congressional offices May 20 after filing an affidavit that included video and radio tapes that they say show Jefferson accepting a $100,000 bribe from an informant. As BET.com reported earlier, the government allegedly retrieved $90,000 from a freezer in Jefferson's Washington, D.C., residence last August.
Both Republican and Democrats were quick to denounce the search as a clear violation of the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine.
However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his deputy, Paul McNulty, and FBI Director Robert Mueller, have argued that the documents were obtained legally, an administration official told The Los Angeles Times. And the nation’s top three law enforcement officials implied they'd resign or would rather be fired if told to give the documents back.
“It was framed more theoretically: If this happens, this could happen,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Saturday, characterizing it as “an indirect threat.”
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Jefferson is under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to promote business ventures in Africa for he and his family.
Government officials say they decided to search the congressman's legislative offices after failing to get Jefferson's records through other means.
President Bush Steps Into The Fray
Bowing somewhat to bipartisan outrage, President George W. Bush on Thursday, put a 45-day hold on the review of documents ceased in the May 20 Capitol Hill raid.
"I recognize these are deeply held views," the president said before ordering the Justice Department to seal documents it obtained in the raid. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."
Historians say the raid was the first of a representative's quarters in Congress' 219 years.
And some observers are predicting that the case could bring all three branches -- legislative, executive and judicial -- together at the Supreme Court for a constitutional showdown.
Calling the raid "profoundly disturbing," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Tuesday he will summon Gonzales and Mueller before his panel to explain their decision to raid a lawmaker's office for the first time in history. Many of the panel members weighing in on the matter Tuesday made it clear they were not necessarily speaking out in support of Jefferson but were against what they consider to be an unconstitutional breech of the separation of powers.
Congressional Black Caucus Speaks Out
Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus is expressing outrage that Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi sent Jefferson a letter asking the eight-term lawmaker to resign from the prestigious tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
The consensus is that Jefferson is being singled out.
Jefferson, who has not been officially charged, is standing tough. He maintains his innocence.
"None of the matters reported to be under scrutiny involve issues under jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. Therefore, such a request would be even more perplexing and unreasonable," the New Orleans representative said Wednesday, adding that he will not give up his post on the committee nor resign from Congress.
"If I agreed, it would unfairly punish the people of the Second District, and I will not stand for that," Jefferson added.
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