Comedian Jay Leno snorted gleefully the other night about the fact members of Congress have criticized the FBI search of the legislative office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. Jefferson is under investigation for allegedly accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.
Leno approved of what apparently was a purely legal search, noted the congressional whining and asked if it isn't fair to expect our lawmakers to meet the same legal and moral standards as the ordinary citizen.
The answer should be "yes," but it would appear people such as representatives and senators, of both parties, think they deserve special privileges, or, er, protection.
Rep. John Boehner, of Ohio, indignantly called the search an "invasion of the legislative branch" and predicted the issue could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The raid came after the FBI got a search warrant signed by a judge. An affidavit said agents videotaped Jefferson accepting $100,000 in cash intended as a bribe. Jefferson denies wrongdoing, naturally, but two of his associates have already pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges. It appears Jefferson has been taking handouts to promote high-tech companies to leaders of African nations.
Has Rep. Jefferson been able to explain why he was keeping $90,000 in a freezer in his home? One wag wondered if he put the money there because the lettuce crisper was already full. Then there is the videotape of the $100,000 take. What would the FBI do with such evidence against the alleged man or woman in the street?
Justice Department officials say the decision to search Jefferson's office was made in part because he was given the chance but refused to comply with a subpoena for documents the past summer. Had he been sinless, would he have declined? What was he hiding?
In all the furor, U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales is trying to smooth a few rough edges. "We have a great deal of respect for Congress as a co-equal branch of government." But he defended the search, commenting: "We have an obligation to the American people to pursue the evidence where it exists."
: Even if it happens to involve a member of Congress, whose members in too many instances have not covered themselves with glory from the standpoint of ethics and morality in recent times.
If legality applies to the rest of us, why not to them?