FBI’s Raid on Jefferson’s Office: The Shot Heard ‘Round the Hill

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So in the wake of the FBI’s Saturday night raid on the offices of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), Democrat and Republican members have united in a spirit of bipartisanship to defend the Constitution. House and Senate leadership went on record to say how “concerned” they were about the action. House Speaker Dennis Hastert even waxed eloquent on how the Constitution was designed to protect against tyranny.

Wow. After sitting largely silent for more than five years of assaults against citizens’ constitutional rights, our legislators have been moved to protect the Constitution because one of their own — a man who meets contacts in hotel parking lots to accept briefcases full of money, and actually kept $90,000 in cash bundled in his freezer — had his offices searched by the FBI.

Methinks the Congress doth protest too much.

Forgive my skepticism. Perhaps some members have legitimate Constitutional concerns. But it’s good to consider that other, more personal concerns may be involved. Remember, the Justice Department has a number of investigations targeting lawmakers and staff on the Hill. Various committees and members have received subpoenas for documents and other cooperation, and they’ve been reportedly dragging their feet rather than comply.Intentionally or not, the FBI’s raid could be read by other lawmakers to mean: if you don’t willingly comply, we’ll come take what we need. In that sense, the raid wasn’t just a hit on Jefferson, it was also a warning shot across the bow of all those facing scrutiny: you could be next.

In that context, it’s a little easier to understand the sudden comity between the parties: they have a vested interest in making sure the Jefferson raid — which was the first ever FBI raid of Congressional offices, many members quickly pointed out — is the only such raid of Congressional offices. If they aren’t protecting their own skin, then they’re protecting their parties’ health, which take a hit every time Justice treats one of their members like a criminal.