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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How to Screw Up a Scandal

(Keywords: , , , try as they might, they can't turn into Tom DeLay)

Did I ever say I was a big fan of The Nation's John Nichols? Not only does he write for an influential weekly, but he's an editor of the Wisconsin daily, The Capital Times. If that's not enough work for you, he's also an author and frequent talk show guest.

I'm tired already.

Anyhoo, excuse my Wisconsin boosterism while I turn your attention to a Nichols article on his Nation blog titled Checks, Balances & an FBI Raid on Congress:

No one seriously believes that William Jefferson is going to survive the political train wreck he has made of his congressional career. Even the notoriously forgiving voters of New Orleans – who just reelected gaffe-prone Mayor Ray Nagin – are not going to be comfortable with a congressman who hid $90,000 in cash in his refrigerator and got caught on an FBI tape talking about taking bribes.

The question now is whether the system of checks and balances established by the founders in 1787 will be another victim of the train wreck.

When Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided Jefferson's suite of offices in the Rayburn House Office Building, they committed an act unheard of even in the darkest days of the Republic. On orders from the executive branch, federal agents entered the office of a member of the legislative branch and spent hours going through that office and removing materials they deemed necessary to an investigation.

That's right, a scandal ridden administration is so desperate for some democrat, someplace, to do anything wrong, that they'll abuse the constitution to make political hay - this guy has to be in the news in november.

And this is such a naked abuse that House Speaker Denny Hastert said, "The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case. Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress. Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years."

How bad does it have to be before a notorious Bush asskisser like Hastert speaks out? Pretty bad. As Nichols writes:

If this was just about Jefferson, the raid would not have stirred an outcry. Every indication is that the Louisianan congressman has betrayed his oath of office and abused the privileges of his position in ways that would make Tom DeLay blush.

But this is not just about Jefferson, who would be in plenty of trouble even without whatever information might have been garnered from the raid on his office. Remember, the FBI has the congressman on tape making classically incriminating comments.

This is about an executive branch that has already pushed the limits of its power on issues ranging from invading and occupying countries without a declaration of war to spying on Americans without a warrant and is now undermining whatever remains of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of powers between the White House and the Congress.

The election year smear campaign is on. The GOP desperately hopes that William Jefferson's corruption will convince voters that all democrats are corrupt. It's a ridiculous argument on so many levels, but in terms of sheer numbers, there's absolutely no way you can argue that the GOP isn't the most corrupt party in America.

What I find really funny about this, though, is that the Bush administration has managed to take a scandal about a democrat and turn it into a scandal about the FBI. Seriously, these guys could screw up a one horse funeral.