House leaders unite against Justice Department seizure

first_imgWASHINGTON – The constitutional clash pitting Congress against the executive branch escalated on Wednesday as the bipartisan leadership of the House demanded the immediate return of materials seized by federal agents when they searched the office of a House member who is under investigation in a corruption case. The demand, by Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, underscored the degree of the anger generated among members of both parties on Capitol Hill by the raid Saturday night on the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., who has been accused in court papers of accepting bribes. “The Justice Department was wrong to seize records from Congressman Jefferson’s office in violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, the speech or debate clause of the Constitution and the practice of the last 219 years,” Hastert and Pelosi said in a rare joint statement. Jefferson made a similar demand in federal court, asserting the weekend raid of his office represented an affront to the constitutional separation of powers. He called for federal agents to be prohibited from reviewing seized files. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Justice Department officials, who have called the search proper and necessary, did not appear ready to return materials taken from the lawmaker’s official House suite, setting the stage for a court battle to resolve competing claims of constitutional protection. In a statement, the agency said it was trying to resolve the dispute in a way “that meets law enforcement’s needs and also allays any institutional concerns that Congress may have.” The tense conflict is also developing into a potential new problem for President George W. Bush. The White House has reached out to Republicans on Capitol Hill to allay concerns about the president’s low poll numbers and try to heal deep rifts within the party over a variety of issues. The constitutional confrontation is doing nothing to help with that effort. The unanimity of Hastert and Pelosi, two staunch political foes, was a vivid display of how serious House members appear to be taking the search.last_img read more