AG and FBI Director Threatened Resignation
The Attorney General, FBI Director, and other top officials threatened to resign if President Bush bowed to Congressional demands to turn over evidence seized in the search of Rep. William Jefferson’s office.
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.
I’m glad to see someone had some backbone in this matter. To have thrown away evidence against a corrupt congressman obtained through a legal raid backed by a judicial warrant out of political appeasement would have been outrageous. Separation of powers or no, Congress is not above the law.
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