Via the NYT:
WASHINGTON, May 26 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member’s office, government officials said Friday.
Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress.
The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.
The evidence was seized by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last Saturday night in a search of the office of Representative William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana. The search set off an uproar of protest by House leaders in both parties, who said the intrusion by an executive branch agency into a Congressional office violated the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine. They demanded that the Justice Department return the evidence.
The possibility of resignations underscored the gravity of the crisis that gripped the Justice Department as the administration grappled with how to balance the pressure from its own party on Capitol Hill against the principle that a criminal investigation, especially one involving a member of Congress, should be kept well clear of political considerations.
It is not clear precisely what message Mr. Gonzales delivered to Mr. Bush when they met Thursday morning at the White House, or whether he informed the president of the resignation talk. But hours later, the White House announced that the evidence would be sealed for 45 days in the custody of the solicitor general, the Justice Department official who represents the government before the Supreme Court. That arrangement ended the talk of resignations.
Can’t say as I blame anyone in the Justice Dept. or the FBI who would have resigned in protest over this. The bottom line is that fear of a Congressional hissy fit shouldn’t prevent law enforcement – even on (gasp!) Capitol Hill – from doing thier jobs.
House Speaker Denny Hastert, who still hasn’t taken the time to tell us exactly what was ‘unconstitutional!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ about the FBI’s seizure of documents from Jefferson’s office, issued a statement Thursday on the controversy surrounding this:
In more than 219 years, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to use a search warrant to obtain documents from a congressional office. These issues have always been resolved without the necessity of a search warrant, and prosecutions have gone forward.
Justice Department officials now insist that this specific case required them, for the first time, to conduct a search. I regret that when they reached this conclusion, they did not work with us to figure out a way to do it consistently with the Constitution. But that is behind us now. I am confident that in the next 45 days, the lawyers will figure out how to do it right.
Get real. The statement clearly implies that the feds went about this wrong. On the contrary, Speaker Hastert, the feds did what they had to do: they obtained a legal warrant from a judge and searched Jefferson’s Congressional office accordingly. Hastert continues to make statements he can’t back up, and I wish someone in Washington would call on him to explain himself. His official statement missed the mark.
Hey, here’s an idea: if only the President would rescind his intial order for the evidence to be sealed for 45 days, then maybe Reps. Hastert and Pelosi would resign in protest. I, for one, wouldn’t object to that one bit.
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