Wednesday, May 31, 2006

House Still Doesn't Get It

Dana Milbank is not my favorite, but he gives the Judiciary Committee a taste of what's to come if they call in the Attorney General and FBI Director for a hearing to castigate them over the Jefferson office raid:

FBI Raid Hits a Constitutional Nerve
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; A02

When asked to hold hearings on the rendition and torture of terrorism suspects, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) respectfully declined.

Invited repeatedly to probe the Bush administration's leaking of a CIA operative's identity, the chairman sent his regrets.

Urged to have hearings dedicated to the administration's warrantless eavesdropping, Sensenbrenner demurred once more.

But when FBI agents searched a congressional office 11 days ago, Sensenbrenner went up to the attic and found his gavel.

Yesterday, he held the first of at least four hearings into the raid -- the debut was dispassionately titled "Reckless Justice" -- and announced that he will haul the attorney general and FBI director before his committee. He also vowed that he will "promptly" write legislation to prevent a recurrence.

Even before the expert witnesses were sworn in yesterday, Sensenbrenner said his mind was made up. "Documents having nothing whatsoever to do with any crime," he lectured absent administration officials, were "seized by the executive branch without constitutional authority."

The four witnesses performed in the perfect harmony of an amen chorus.

"A wholesale constitutional violation," said former House lawyer Charles Tiefer.

"Unconstitutional," judged constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein.

"Abandonment of fundamental law," said former congressman Bob Walker (R-Pa.). "A recipe for constitutional crisis."

"A profound and almost gratuitous insult," contributed George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "Raw arrogance."

Milbank's mockery goes on for a while.

Now here's the thing: I don't know whether the search was constitutional or not. I don't see any strong argument against and I, like many in the House Republican majority, advocate a narrow reading of the Constitution.

But in an important sense, it doesn't matter if it's Constitutional or not. To argue this case prominently and publicly - and particularly to do so at a time when there is no other news about Congress in the papers (Memorial Day recess) - is stupid. What can be gained by flaunting this in front of the national media, that can't be achieved through private communications with the White House? And while I think that Alberto Gonzalez will have the good grace not to show the Committee up if he is called to testify, why should he? After all, the President gave the House an 'out' when he decided to seal the documents for 45 days. If the Congress wants to continue to pick at this scab, why should the administration save them (politically) AGAIN? Take the olive branch (or life preserver) that has been offered, negotiate a face-saving compromise for these documents that allows you to state that no precedent has been set, and end this argument.

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