Monday, May 29, 2006

Dust Still Settling

So, things are getting curiouser and curiouser in the case of the FBI raid, but some fundamental questions are being answered.

The biggest one for me was the question about FBI authority and whether they were acting within the limits of the law. The answer is that the FBI has the legal right to conduct such a search. I'm going off Josh Marshall's Another Question post. Yes, they had the legal authority to do so, and they followed correct procedure, which is a slightly different but no less vital issue.

My initial suspicion was this was an action by the White House to harass Democrats, flood a news cycle with dirt about the opposition, and expand executive power over Congress. Given that these things are SOP for the Cheney administration, it was reasonable, but it still didn't add up, especailly when Hastert began complaining. Then Bush tried to get the papers returned. Then imposed a 45 day lock on the data. It began to look like the WH wasn't behind the raid, or else it didn't go the way the WH wanted.

Next up was the threat by Mueller, McNulty & Gonzales to resign if the WH forced them to return the seized evidence. In conjunction with the WH effort to get the papers returned, the situation is now significantly different. This remains the biggest mystery to me. Mueller's threat makes sense given that he is protecting his agency - plain old-fashioned turf fight there. It should come as no surprise that he wouldn't want the FBI to be given the CIA treatment. I do think, with Mark Klieman, that the "warning shot" fired off against Hastert (a leak that Hastert himself is involved in an investigation, with the implication that it is an investigation of him directly) is an illegitimate use of inside information to inflict political harm. That it was done to a politician I loathe and wish to see thrown out of office does not make it less objectionable. The next time it could be a leak about a Democrat.

The question is why are DOJ guys, Gonzales and McNulty, also threatening to resign? That's a really drastic action. I find it difficult to beleive that two political hacks who owe their current power to ass-kissing the Cheney regime have suddenly grown backbones and are acting from principle. So far, I have yet to read or deduce an explanation that will acount for their actions.

It's beginning to look like the WH and Hasert are working together to try to keep this from becoming precedent, and for good reason - they are up to their eyeballs in dirty deals. Again, I turn to the ever-reliable work by Josh Marshall and the terrific reporters of the TPM group - it is strongly in the Rethug corruption machine's interest to create rules to hamstring concerted efforts to uncover their own malfeasance. The California Rethug gang is really going to get hammered on this.

It still leaves why the FBI decided to use Rep. Jefferson as an example. I do think both partisanship and racism played a role, particularly when various accounts indicate that they had a solid case against this guy without having to raid his office. The most salient reason, though, is also the most simple - they needed a slam-dunk case on which to base what they knew would be a very daring move, one that would be fought by the WH. They need precedent. If the first raid (and, yes, there will be others) had been against, say, Rep. Jerry Lewis or another white male insider Rethug, the battle would have been more aggressive to force the FBI to back down. Think about the way that the CIA (!!!) is being cast as a hotbed of liberal Democrats out to bring down the WH. (If only...) Going after a Dem helps to protect the agency from such claims. I think we can expect to see news accounts in the coming weeks trying to make that argument, but it is going to be harder to make it stick.

This puts Dems in a dangerous position. On the one hand, it seems a no-brainer to flatly declare if Rep. X is involved in a felony, then the party stands with the law, not the person. Clean government, accountability, etc. On the other, it's not a mistake that the FBI went after a black Democrat from the south. The history of racism (Mississippi Burning notwithstanding) in the FBI is one of the least honorable facets of the agency, and the Democratic leadership is right to be wary of appearing to throw a black representative to the wolves. Invoking law and order is not going to go over well with constituents who have reason to doubt the integrity and motivations of the police. Thus, I'm not going to bash Pelosi for insisting on accountability and transparency on the part of the FBI, particularly when joined to her requests that Rep. Jefferson step down from his committee seat.

I did enjoy reading Rep. Barney Frank's (Dem., Reality) short, sharp, and smart smack-down of the Rethug maneuverings to protect their asses:
(Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute.)

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Madam Speaker, I disagree with the bipartisan House leadership criticism of the FBI's search of a Member's office. I know nothing specifically about the case, except that the uncontroverted public evidence did seem to justify the issuance of a warrant.

What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress.

I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.

So I think it was a grave error to have criticized the FBI. I think what they did, they ought to be able to do in every case where they can get a warrant from a judge. I think, in particular, for the leadership of this House, which has stood idly by while this administration has ignored the rights of citizens, to then say we have special rights as Members of Congress is wholly inappropriate.

(BTW, if you don't get your long distance phone service through Working Assets, the parent organization of Working For Change, you should. They have cellphone service, too.)

Even so, the raid on Rep. Jefferson has the potential to have electoral costs for the Dems in November. The party leadership is going to have to be rigorous in its adherence to procedure in public, and work like crazy behind the scenes to keep Jefferson from using race politics to try to avoid prosecution. Liars to the left, bastards to the right, and they're stuck in the middle with the howling storm of comfortable white middle-class self-righteousness. Unenviable position to be in, is all I can say.

This will be a long time unfolding. The Dems are really on the sidelines with it, except when brought out to be smacked around for some entertainment by the main players. The best that can be said is it looks like Jefferson will be out of the picture relatively soon.


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