[A]n interesting backstory at the Justice Department:
The Justice Department signaled to the White House this week that the nation's top three law enforcement officials would resign or face firing rather than return documents seized from a Democratic congressman's office in a bribery investigation, according to administration sources familiar with the discussions.
The possibility of resignations by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was communicated to the White House by several Justice officials in tense negotiations over the fate of the materials taken from Rep. William J. Jefferson's office.
Assuming this report (based on anonymous sources) is true, it seems likely that this means the Jefferson investigation goes well beyond the not-entirely-newsworthy phenomenon of a corrupt Louisiana Congressman. Even if the claims of Congressional immunity are bogus -- which they are -- I can't imagine these guys threatening resignation over a run-of-the-mill corruption case. That makes me think that there are a lot of other members of Congress implicated, which perhaps also explains the rather, um, vigorous reaction from Congress.
The New York Times story is here.
The WaPo version is here.Captain Ed notes that the House leadership is backing down from their claim that the search was unconstitutional and that Denny Hastert is the big loser in this brouhaha.
Given this time out for his obstinacy, Hastert and his colleagues have busied themselves with goalpost-moving and backtracking. Before, they claimed a Constitutional privilege of freedom from search warrants and subpoenas from the executive branch, even though Congress regularly issues subpoenas without judicial approval against members of the executive branch. Now Hastert has acknowledged that Congressmen are subject to the same laws as everyone else, but have modified their complaint; now they say the issue is that Jefferson and his attorney were not allowed to be present at the search. That's a far cry from the phony Constitutional crisis they declared earlier this week, perhaps a more reasonable issue and certainly one that didn't require Hastert's intercession. He could have kept his mouth shut and let Jefferson's attorney raise that question when the evidence got submitted for trial -- just like any other defendant in a criminal case.
The denouement of this kerfuffle demonstrates two very important points. George Bush still holds the power in Washington and in the GOP, and this controversy shows that he and the people at Justice remain the adults in charge of the day care center. Hastert has severely damaged himself politically in two ways. No one in the GOP will ever give Hastert the same level of trust again after this attempt to pervert the Constitution, and Republicans will remain furious with him for taking the focus off of William Jefferson and his cash-cow business in selling his vote.
Read it here.
Ed is right to note that Dubya played this one exactly right -- calling a time out and sequestering the papers. It gave all sides a chance to calm down and to consider the consequences of their statements. There's a madness running through the House of Representatives these days and with the Senate eternally out to lunch, it falls on Bush and his associates in the executive branch to be the adults.