Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales Emerges As A Menace
But the issue is a portentous one--the first search by federal agents of a congressional office in the history of the American Republic. The raid at the offices of Rep. William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, on Saturday night could well have been an attempt by a power-grabbing Administration to set a precedent that would threaten Congress and immensely enhance the power of the Executive branch for years to come.
Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales has undertaken two initiatives in recent days that should cause concern among all Americans who support our democratic system of government.
Gonzales first raised the possibility that the Justice Department would prosecute the New York Times for revealing that the Administration has undertaken a wide ranging domestic wiretapping of millions of phone calls. Then, he sent FBI agents swooping down on Jefferson's office, supposedly in an attempt to search for evidence he had taken bribes. Almost certainly, he would not have spoken and acted as he did without the approval of President George W. Bush.
In both instances, Gonzales has gone much too far. If he persists in his position, and specifically refuses to return the papers seized at Jefferson's office, then he ought to be removed as attorney general, and if the President officially supports him, then impeachment of the President must be considered.
However, on Thursday Bush ordered the Justice Department to seal the records FBI agents had seized for 45 days. This was welcomed by Hastert and Pelosi as a cooling off period to allow discussions. In the Dubai ports controversy, such a cooling off period led to a broad Administration retreat. We can hope the same thing will happen in this case. But it may only happen, if Congress sticks to its position, and does so loudly.
It seems clear, however, that the Administration has used both the War on Terror and the unpopularity of Congress in many polls as excuses for taking steps that violate the Constitution.
It certainly would be against the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, stating that no law shall abridge the freedom of the press, to prosecute the New York Times or any newspaper for what it has printed. Freedom of the press is one of the bulwarks of American democracy. Without it, indeed, there is no democracy. Yet since its infamous prosecution of Judith Miller, the Administration has shown it cares not a jot for it.
Similarly, such a search of a congressional office is something that threatens the separation of powers written into the Constitution.
I do not doubt the country is beset by both international terrorists and congressional corruption. But the means used to combat them must be consistent with the Constitution.
It's beginning to appear this Administration is high-handedly trying to alter the traditional American system, and that cannot be permitted. It is an issue of the highest moment. It is much more important than any unpopularity of Congress. That cannot and should not be used as an excuse.
I once had a professor at Dartmouth, Arthur Wilson, who remarked in a humanities class, "Just remember gentlemen, everything the Nazis did was strictly legal, according to German law." It was a reminder of something we all ought to be aware of, and that is that the law can easily be distorted to commit outrages. That is what the Bush Administration is doing now.