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.

Related posts below the fold.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. […] Outside The Beltway (James Joyner) AG and FBI Director Threatened Resignation — “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.” […]

  2. Bush Orders Jefferson Documents Sealed…

    President Bush stepped into the Justice Department’s constitutional confrontation with Congress and …

  3. Feds were ready to take a stand in Jefferson case…

    Via the NYT:
    WASHINGTON, May 26 — 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…

  4. Suaesed says:

    If you check with the retired CIA Operations Officers like Johnson(TPM) and Plame, etc. you’ll find that they agree. There will be no fight as far as the evidence; the FBI was right to insist on the evidence.

    This reminds me alot of how these people deal with others. Fitz passes on a criminal conspiracy charge(s)… and its so much easier with the other Federal Employees(DOJ) and their unions. So, what is the real deal Fitz made to pass on the criminal conspiracy charges? He is not a democrat or Republican when he was asked about Plame, so maybe it really was the Federal Unions working together. Maybe he was scared, which is understandable when we look at retire(d)(ing) CIA Operations Officers and what they have done to US government employees. The Bush Administration and his advisors are the US government, we put them in office to run the country. What the CIA Operations Officers have done with the unique training we provided them for overseas work is scary. Fitz may have been intimidated. So, everyone gets along now that there are no criminal conspiracy charges coming out of DOJ.

  5. […] AND YET MORE: “Separation of powers or no, Congress is not above the law,” writes James Joyner. […]

  6. McGehee says:

    I am disappointed to realize that I cannot convince myself Bush made the decision he did on this, for the right reasons.

  7. Gonzales Said He Would Quit in Raid Dispute…

    I dont blame him. Hastert and Peloci were idiots to complain about the legitimacy of the raid. Bush was very wise to do what neither group wanted, and seal the documents for 45 days while they could check with the Supreme Court, but giving them back …..

  8. Gonzalez, Muller and Other Threaten to Resign over Jefferson Docs…

    The NYT (Gonzales Said He Would Quit in Raid Dispute) has a remarkable story this morning about a mass threat to resign by a number of high-ranking DoJ appointees if the President were to return the Jefferson documents to the Congress:
    Attorney Genera…

  9. Not to piddle on any ones parade, but this does seem to be an anonymously sourced news story. So I for one don’t feel very comfortable in thinking I know whether or not they did or didn’t threaten to resign. All we know is that someone convinced a NYT writer that they knew. And to be fair, given the track record of some of the NYT reporters, we don’t even know if there really was an anonymous source. This is really just a high classed rumor right now.