Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Constitutional showdown looms —but not the one we expected

At stake is a system of checks and balances established by the founders in 1787! Will it fall victim to the Bushco train wreck? For the first time in American history, armed federal agents of the executive branch of the government executed a raid on Congress and spent hours "rifling through papers" and removing materials that they alone deemed necessary to an investigation.

This time even Republicans are alarmed. House speaker Dennis Hastert —no friend of the Constitution —denounced the assault on the checks and balances; House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio predicted the issue would be decided by the Supreme Court.

The target of their investigation is Rep. William Jefferson, D-La, himself little defended by either party. The condemnation of the raid, however, comes from both sides of the aisle. Rarely have the GOP so boldly defended the Constitution as when Hastert reportedly told George W. Bush that the raid violated the U.S. Constitution, the separation of powers, and the "Speech and Debate" clause specifically.
"[Senators and Representatives] 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 from the same, and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."

—Speech and Debate Clause

The raid smacks of Oliver Cromwell and his armed troops storming into the long parliament and dismissing them at the end of a long and thunderous harangue: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing! Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

I will not defend the "target" just because he's a Democrat. If the allegations against him have substance, he must be investigated —but not at the expense of what little remains of the rule of law. The allegations against him must not become the pretext by which the last vestige of Constitutional law is jettisoned on Bush's watch.

I am also slow to applaud Hastert in the role of "good" Republican for denouncing the raid. Hastert himself is so compromised that FOX News made it a point to report that Hastert himself was NOT under investigation. It is a sign of immoral times when headlines trumpet that someone is not facing indictment. Surely, we are living in the end game —when Bush will either consolidate his dictatorial rule or he will fail and be removed precipitously.

Charles Dickens was prescient. Mr. Bumble, in David Copperfield, could very have been describing contemporary life in the United States: “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass —a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience —by experience.”

Congress would be well-advised to begin its impeachment investigation of Bush now —while there is still a Congress. The downside risks are not insignificant. In a showdown —Rumsfeld will take his orders from Bush who would not hesitate to order the arrest and detentions of those members of Congress organizing to impeach and remove.

The harm Bush has done to the Constitution will outlive his administration but the GOP will not have to wait for retribution. A popular firestorm will sweep through Washington like a Kansas tornado through a trailer park. Republicans —Bush fanatics, in particular —have argued that Bush could be trusted with increased executive power. To their everlasting chagrin they have been proven wrong, and many —Hastert among them —are giving evidence that they regret having thrown in with a gang of crooks and usurpers.

The GOP must surely realize that saving Bush will be the end of the American republic —but also the end of the Republican party. Surely the GOP must realize that Bush "ain't" worth it. The alternatives to Congressional action are simply too terrible to contemplate —the end of the Constitution, the end of the republic, the end of the rule of law, the end of the separation of powers, the end of due process of law, the end of the United States.

Some updates: A Register-Guard Editorial asks some tought questions of a Congress that has too often just rolled over for the would-be emperor:
Where, pray tell, was Congress' outrage and determination to defend the Constitution when the Bush administration:

• Assumed unilateral executive authority over any and all questions of war and peace, and brazenly manipulated intelligence reports to justify its prior decision to invade Iraq?

• Declared that the president has the power to ignore federal statutes and international treaties governing the treatment of enemy prisoners?

• Assumed the power to designate American citizens as "enemy combatants" and lock them up without charges or any semblance of due process for the duration of an amorphous "war on terror" that has no end in sight?

• Claimed that the president has the inherent power as commander in chief to order the secret surveillance of the international e-mail and telephone conversations of U.S. citizens - and to obtain their phone re- cords to create vast databanks?

• Issued more than 750 presidential signing statements, far more than any other chief executive in history, reserving the right to interpret new laws on his own terms? Examples include a congressional ban on torture of prisoners, a prohibition on the military keeping illegally gathered intelligence on American citizens, and a requirement that the Justice Department keep Congress informed on how the Patriot Act is being used to search the private homes of citizens.

Bush's Garroting of Democracy

By Robert Parry

May 24, 2006

The Bush administration’s steady garroting of American liberties – already strangling the right to a fair trial and protections against warrantless searches – is now tightening its chokehold around the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press and respect for Congress as a co-equal branch of government.

Over the past weekend, George W. Bush and his Justice Department signaled to the U.S. press corps and Congress that they are not beyond the reach of Bush’s “plenary” – or unlimited – powers as Commander in Chief or his authority as “unitary executive,” deciding what laws to enforce and how.

On May 21, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told ABC’s “This Week” that news organizations like the New York Times could be prosecuted for publishing classified information about the “war on terror,” such as the disclosure of Bush’s secret program of warrantless wiretapping inside the United States.

The night before that TV interview, the FBI conducted an extraordinary raid on the Capitol Hill office of Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana as part of a bribery investigation, raising bipartisan concerns about the Executive Branch trampling congressional rights and intimidating members of Congress.

“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,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement.

“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 Separations of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by members of Congress,” Hastert said. [Washington Post, May 23, 2006] ...

Bush orders FBI-Congress documents sealed

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush stepped into the Justice Department's constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a congressman's office be sealed for 45 days.

The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents under seal and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general. ...

Hastert lashes out at Justice Dept.

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert accused the Justice Department Thursday of trying to intimidate him in retaliation for criticizing the
FBI's weekend raid on a congressman's office, escalating a searing battle between the executive and legislative branches of government.

"This is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people," Hastert said on WGN radio Thursday morning. "We're just not going to be intimidated on it."
Additional resources:
'Toons by Dante Lee; use only with permission

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