Bush Orders FBI-Congress Documents Sealed
Friday, May 26, 2006; 1:35 AM
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 lawmaker's office be sealed for 45 days.
The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and that they remain in the custody of the Justice Department's solicitor general.
Bush's move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and House leaders of both parties, particularly Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Hastert and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they were asking the House counsel to meet with the Justice Department to work out a resolution.
Bush's order "gives us some time to step back and try to negotiate with the Department of Justice," said Hastert.
Likewise, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it would "provide additional time to reach a permanent solution that allows this investigation to continue while accommodating the concerns of certain members of Congress."
The president said he recognized that Republican and Democratic leaders have "deeply held views" that the search violated the Constitution's separation of powers principles. But he stopped short of saying he agreed with them, declaring the end goal was to provide materials relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation to prosecutors "in a manner that respects the interests of a coequal branch of government."
"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," Bush said in a statement. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."
Hastert, R-Ill., and Pelosi, D-Calif., responded with their own statement: "Today, we are directing the House counsel to begin negotiations with the Department of Justice regarding the protocols and procedures to be followed in connection with evidence of criminal conduct that might exist in the offices of members."
The FBI executed a search warrant to raid Jefferson's office Saturday night as part of a bribery investigation against the congressman. Earlier, authorities said they had videotaped Jefferson last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents had found $90,000 of that cash stuffed in a freezer in his Washington apartment.
Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson to promote a high tech business venture. Jefferson has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
The raid, which historians said was the first such search of a congressman's Capitol quarters in the more than two centuries since the first Congress convened, set off loud complaints from both Republicans and Democrats that the executive branch was overstepping its authority.