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Friday, August 03, 2007

A Claim of Legislative Privilege?


WASHINGTON - The FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's office last year and viewed legislative documents, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The court ordered the Justice Department to return any privileged documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat's office on Capitol Hill. The court did not order the return of all the documents seized in the raid.

Jefferson argued that the raid trampled on congressional independence. The Justice Department said that declaring the search unconstitutional would essentially prohibit the FBI from ever looking at a lawmaker's documents.


American government and corruption continues to be more bizarre than any fiction writer could imagine.

We have a Republican President repeatedly citing "executive privilege" on issues ranging from leaks of information about CIA agents, hearings about whether the Attorney General lied to Congress while defending possibly inappropriate firings of US Attorneys and even Army investigations into the friendly fire killing of a war hero.

At the same time, the FBI is pursuing criminal prosecution of a Democratic Congressman caught with $90,000 in cash in his freezer at his home that was part of $100,000 paid to him in bribes by a telecommunications firm as part of a larger $500,000 in bribes he is alleged to have collected from multiple parties.

Taking a cue apparently from the Bush White House, the Congressman's defense team argued that an FBI seizure of documents inside his Capital Hill office violated terms of the "Speech and Debate clause" of the Constitution and that the material must be returned and cannot be used in the prosecution.

The US Court of Appeals in DC now rules in favor of Jefferson, despite the fact that the speech and debate clause was intended to prevent the Executive Branch from arresting, detaining, or otherwise preventing a member of Congress from physically voting on a specific legislative matter in opposition to the President's preferred outcome. It was not intended to provide each member of Congress a 20 foot by 20 foot bubble of immunity inside their office to be used to store incriminating evidence about their conduct that could never be compromised by a law enforcement search.

So is this where the country is at? Where the Executive and Legislative branches are claiming the right to be immune from incriminating evidence being gathered about their conduct that directly affects public policy while millions of individual Americans are subjected to warrantless wiretapping? Where the courts uphold those fictitious claims by inventing constitutional protections where none were intended or warranted? Where every branch of government is so bent on protecting its own dubious legal and ethical powers of fiat that it is not willing to block meritless claims of protection and power of the other branches that are causing repeated, serious harm to the country?