In a unique display of bipartisan solidarity, congressmen of both parties voiced their moral outrage against what they felt was an unlawful act of government.
After mounting suspicions of bribery, Congressman William Jefferson’s office was searched by the FBI, which found $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer. Immediately following this search, members of Congress criticized the contemptible actions of the executive branch.
This latest controversy is tied to one of the most controversial amendments to the U.S. Constitution: the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against ‘unreasonable searches and seizures,’ and has been extended to personal privacy.
While congressmen have been divided on whether the executive branch has the right to wiretap phone calls and, on a separate occasion, collect phone records of millions of Americans (all done without a warrant), they have assembled a concentrated effort to draw attention to the search of Jefferson’s office, which was carried out with a legally-obtained warrant.
Never before has a federal entity searched a congressman’s office, and some in Congress saw no reason to break tradition.
It’s a shame there was not a similarly vocal opposition when it came to the millions of faceless Americans who were not given the privilege of a warrant, and who did not have the luxury of powerful friends who will draw attention to the questionable and perhaps even unethical acts of government.
Both House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came together and spoke out against the search of Jefferson’s office, although Pelosi later called for Jefferson’s resignation.
So although House leaders admit the evidence is quite damning, there is still a moral objection to the fact that the search was carried out.
In other words, Pelosi is outraged that the congressman’s office was legally searched, but she does not want him associated with the Democratic party.
Whether or not you buy into the argument that the search in question violates the fundamental American value of ‘separation of powers,’ it is hard to push the idea that any member of the government is free from having to abide by basic laws that directly impact an official’s ability to serve the American people.
Furthermore, the most compelling evidence against Jefferson that ultimately led to the search warrant was a videotape showing Jefferson accepting a $100,000 bribe. Certainly, there is a limit to how much a congressman should be allowed to get away with.
If only our public officials gave the same attention to the international phone calls wiretapped without the authority of a court-obtained warrant.
It seems that the separation of powers is only expected when it is most convenient to the governmental institutions involved.
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