Unlike his over-reactive House colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the FBI had a legal right to raid a corrupt Congressman’s office and feels the issue has been “put to bed.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday he had talked the issue over with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and concluded that the FBI acted appropriately.
“I don’t think it abused separation of powers,” Frist said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think there’s allegations of criminal activity, and the American people need to have the law enforced.”
Frist, R-Tenn., was responding to the search conducted May 20-21 in the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.
FBI agents carted away computer and other records in their pursuit of evidence that Jefferson accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for helping set up business deals in Africa.
It was the first time in the history of Congress that a warrant had been used to search a lawmaker’s office.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California responded with a rare joint statement, protesting that the FBI had not notified them and that the search violated the Constitution’s separation of power protections.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which plans a hearing Tuesday on the constitutionality of the search, said the FBI overstepped its authority. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., compared the search to a Capitol Police raid of the Oval Office.
“This debate is not over whether Congressman Jefferson is guilty of a criminal offense,” Sensenbrenner said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He cannot use the constitutional immunity of Congress to shield himself from that or any evidence of that. But it is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch.”
Hastert complained directly to President Bush and demanded that the FBI return the materials. Bush struck a compromise Thursday, ordering that the documents be sealed for 45 days until congressional leaders and the Justice Department agree on what to do with them _ a move that Frist said he supported “to let things settle down.”
“I think we’ve seen it pretty much put to bed now, I hope,” Frist said Sunday. “I trust our Department of Justice.”
Before Bush’s compromise, the showdown last week led the House leaders to threaten budgetary retaliation against the Justice Department, a senior administration official told The Associated Press on Saturday. Justice officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, raised the prospect of resigning if the department were asked to return the documents taken from Jefferson’s office.