Does it really take a federal judge to remind Americans of something that to us seems self-evident — that neither members of Congress nor the marble buildings in which they work are beyond the reach of the laws under which the rest of Americans live? Apparently it does.
The job fell to Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, who on Monday ruled that a May raid by the FBI on the congressional office of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson was legal, and in no way represented an unconstitutional encroachment on the legislative branch by the executive.
“Congress’ capacity to function effectively is not threatened by permitting congressional offices to be searched pursuant to validly issued search warrants,” said Hogan, who had approved the search of Jefferson’s office as part of a criminal probe.
We were stunned that congressional leaders of both parties made such a fuss over the raid, claiming it constituted some affront to them or to constitutional checks and balances. The constitutional basis of such arguments seems flimsy at best. And the uproar seemed to us emblematic of an arrogant attitude by some in Congress that they are above the laws.
So we’re gratified that Hogan set the record straight and put them in their place. “No one argues that the warrant executed upon Congressman Jefferson’s office was not properly administered,” Hogan wrote. “Therefore, there was no impermissible intrusion on the Legislature. The fact that some privileged material was incidentally captured by the search does not constitute an unlawful intrusion.”
The uproar in Congress, though it evokes a big yawn beyond the Beltway, where the rest of the country’s law apply, led President Bush, apparently loath to make enemies on Capitol Hill, to order the seized materials held during a so-called cooling-off period.
It ended Monday, and we hope Hogan’s ruling will allow federal prosecutors to proceed with their investigations. We’ll leave it to others to decide whether Jefferson is guilty of corruption. But we find Congress guilty of arrogance in the first degree.