(Associated Press) President Bush stepped into the Justice Department’s constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a congressman’s office be sealed for 45 days. The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general.
Mystech: Good thing cooler heads presided when it came to the rights and privacy of Congressional bribe-takers… meanwhile, has anyone seen my phone records? :-(
Bush’s move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of the House and Senate.
“This period will provide both parties more time to resolve the issues in a way that ensures that materials relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation are made available to prosecutors in a manner that respects the interests of a coequal branch of government,” Bush said.
In a statement, Bush said he recognized that Republican and Democratic leaders in the House had “deeply held views” that the search on Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office violated the Constitution’s separation of powers principles. But he stopped short of saying he agreed with them.
“Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries,” the president said. “Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out.”
The FBI executed a search warrant to raid Jefferson’s office Saturday night as part of a bribery investigation against the congressman. Earlier, authorities said they had videotaped Jefferson last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents had found $90,000 of that cash stuffed in a freezer in his Washington apartment.
Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson to promote a high tech business venture. Jefferson has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Bush urged the Justice Department and the House to continue discussions and to resolve the matter quickly.
“Let me be clear: Investigating and prosecuting crime is a crucial executive responsibility that I take seriously,” he said. “Those who violate the law — including a member of Congress — should and will be held to account. This investigation will go forward and justice will be served.”
The raid, which historians said was the first such search of a congressman’s Capitol quarters in the more than two centuries since the first Congress convened, set off loud complaints from both Republicans and Democrats that the executive branch was overstepping its authority.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, issued a rare joint statement demanding that the FBI return the documents and saying that Jefferson then should cooperate more fully with the investigation.
Other lawmakers warned that the constitutional confrontation could spark a voter backlash, if Congress was seen as protecting its own at all costs.