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By Geoff Metcalf

May 30, 2006

Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? --Hebrew Ecclesiastes, 7:16-17.

Louisiana Congress critter William Jefferson was caught red handed with his corrupt hand in the cookie jar (up to his elbow). In any venue, other than congress, this ugly case of corruption, abuse of power, and greed would be a slam dunk: �go directly to jail, do not pass go, to not collect $200.�

However, for a brief Ionesscoesque moment the overwhelming empirical evidence against a corrupt Democrat Congressman threatened to challenge credulity and turn into a Constitutional turf battle. Huh?

In the wake of the abundant evidence against Jefferson (video tape, matching serial numbers on the loot found hidden in his freezer, et al), there was a transitory threat of territorial imperatives and separation of powers. Bullfeathers! Congress rallied against perceived threats to their �special status� and joined in a bipartisan defense of the indefensible�presumably over �turf�.

Allegedly, supposedly, hopefully, no one is �supposed� to be above the law (O.J. notwithstanding).

The bipartisan clamor to protect the �sanctity� of congressional offices finally yielded to reality as House leaders begrudgingly conceded that FBI agents with a court-issued warrant CAN legally search a congressman�s office. Doh! And AMEN!

At one point, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director, Robert Mueller, and senior officials and prosecutors at DOJ reportedly were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to give up evidence seized in the House members office search. Gonzales and his deputy Paul McNulty said they had an obligation to protect evidence and would be unwilling to comply with any White House order to return materials to Congress. Strong stuff!

Despite the rhetorical tap dances by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and others, the simple basic fact that seems to elude the congressional �royalty� is that �position� does not insulate one from criminal investigation. Even the perpetually strident House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi is on board with the direction to House lawyers, "to develop reasonable protocols and procedures that will make it possible for the FBI to go into congressional offices to constitutionally execute a search warrant."

Bess Myerson once observed, �The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.� Indifference, commingled with territorial imperatives caused Congress to do and say some epically dumb stuff.

The brouhaha erupted in the wake of the Jefferson search warrant. Previous to the FBI raid on his congressional office, no such warrant had ever been used to search a lawmaker's office in the 219-year history of the Congress. Arguably, perhaps there should have been previous cases, but this was a first.

  • As the week wore on�
  • Pelosi asked for Jefferson to resign.
  • Jefferson refused.
  • Hastert protested directly to Bush and demanded that the FBI return the materials.
  • Bush foolishly crafted a compromise, ordering that the documents be sealed until congressional leaders and the Justice Department agree on what to do with them.

The President�s actions are even more egregious than the previous posturing of Hastert and Pelosi. G.W. was flat out wrong to pander to congress and second-guess a criminal investigation just because of hollow (albeit loud) grousing from Capitol Hill.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling probe, congress is under the microscope. Congress is hearing footsteps and looking over shoulders. Which makes the Jefferson sting all the more outrageous.

Right is right and wrong is wrong. This isn�t rocket science.

"Lord knows it's very possible that there could be other members in this body whose information is sought by the Justice Department," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. Gee, you think?

Republicans are still reeling from investigations of Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham. Some may salivate at a �payback� potential over the Jefferson mess but that would be myopic.

The problems of corruption, abuse of power, and hubris is systemic. It happens because it is allowed to happen. For years the �Ethics� committees in both the Senate and House have been neutered jokes.

�Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.�

It is insane to suggest FBI agents acting lawfully within the requirements of the 4th amendment in anyway poached on the �speech and debate� clause of the Constitution. That clause says that members of Congress "shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same."

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It doesn�t in anyway suggest �Jack Spit� about an �immunity field� and by the by, unless they slipped another one by us, a six figure bribe IS a felony.

Instead of itching about imaginary boundaries, Congress should adopt and implement a zero tolerance policy toward graft and corruption. However, facts in evidence suggest, Diogenes would be S.O.L. searching Congress for that mythical �honest man.�

� 2006 Geoff Metcalf - All Rights Reserved

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"Geoff Metcalf is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host for TALK AMERICA and a veteran media performer. He has had an eclectic professional background covering a wide spectrum of radio, television, magazine, and newspapers. A former Green Beret and retired Army officer he is in great demand as a speaker. Visit Geoff's

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It is insane to suggest FBI agents acting lawfully within the requirements of the 4th amendment in anyway poached on the �speech and debate� clause of the Constitution.