Friday, May 26, 2006

LAT And NYT Editorials on the Jefferson Office Raid Diverge

A friend of mine today found the Los Angeles Times editorial on the raid on Rep. William J. Jefferson's office to be "curious."

The L.A. Times editorial said it was "outrageous" that the leaders of both major parties in Congress had objected to what it termed "a lawful FBI search," and declared President Bush's attempt to compromise the matter by ordering a cooling off period, during which the seized records would be sealed for 45 days, "even more outrageous."

The New York Times editorial takes a far more sensible position, more in accord with traditional American values, when it declares, "Compared with the enormous issues at hand, the matter of Rep. William Jefferson is small potatoes...Federal investigators have managed to prosecute many other officials for corruption over the last 200-odd years without ever barging into Congressional offices in the process. The danger of abuse with this kind of activity is enormous, especially with a president and an attorney general whose grasp for power seems to have no limits. They cannot be trusted to keep legitimate police activity from turning into political prosecution."

I share the New York Times point of view. As another friend of mine told me today, the Justice Department had other important avenues open to it, before it decided to send FBI agents to Jefferson's office, barring both Capitol Police and the House Sergeant of Arms from so much as monitoring the search. Prosecutors could have summoned a grand jury and compelled Jefferson to appear before it. He could, in the end, still be prosecuted if evidence and facts were to so warrant. In violating tradition, the department, under Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, seems to have been trying to create a precedent which could be extremely destructive of the Separation of Powers and the Bill of Rights.

I don't want to be a shrinking violet in this matter. To me, the L.A. Times position reflects the intellectual shallowness of the present editorial pages and shows once again that those pages ought to be under the control of the editor, Dean Baquet, rather than the Chicago-lining publisher, Jeffrey Johnston. It continues to fall short of the quality standards we are right to expect at the L.A. Times.

The L.A. Times editorial, in a phrase, has lost sight of the forest for the trees. It ignores the context in which this raid took place. It fails to realize that prosecutors' processes must yield to the sublime stature of the Constitution. It would abandon the traditional way of doing things for temporary expediency.

I value the comments that are posted on my blog, and so I respect the question raised today by an anonymous reader as to how I reconcile my staunch advocacy of the war against Islamic terrorism with a position favoring civil liberties here at home. "You can't have it both ways, pal," he remarks.

Let me try to answer. I support the war unreservedly, despite mistakes that have been made and were acknowledged yesterday by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, because democracies have the right to defend themselves. Our enemies, the Arab terrorists, are trying to destroy freedom throughout the world, including our own. This justifies the strongest measures, and we are taking them. But it does not justify here in the U.S. violating the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Just as Lincoln took draconian steps to defend the Union in the Civil War, not to abuse democracy but, ultimately, to defend it.

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