WASHINGTON — The ultra-right is hopping mad that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) joined with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a sharp protest to President George W. Bush for the FBI’s raid on the Capitol Hill offices of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).
Hastert and Pelosi saw the May 20 raid, in which 15 FBI agents spent 24 hours searching Jefferson’s office, as an unprecedented and menacing assault on “separation of powers.” It is, they charged, an affront to Congress’ role as a “co-equal” branch of government as spelled out in the Constitution. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), on the other hand, fully supported the FBI raid. The White House hastily put files seized from Jefferson’s office under seal for 45 days in hopes of tamping down the firestorm.
The ultra-right see Jefferson as their best hope of diverting attention from the vast “culture of corruption” that has engulfed the Republican Party since the Bush-Cheney gang took office. Already disgraced GOP Rep. “Duke” Cunningham is in jail and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been indicted and resigned from office. Other Republican lawmakers are under investigation in the Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff scandals. The GOP’s best hope for neutralizing the “sleaze factor” in the 2006 midterm election is to convince voters that the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans.
One angry Republican ranted on Big Lizard’s Blog that Hastert is “permanently preventing the Republicans from using [Jefferson’s] massive corruption … as a bludgeon against the Democrats.”
The Jefferson case has all the earmarks of a Karl Rove operation. Bush’s chief political strategist, himself reportedly under indictment, has said that the key to his modus operandi is to identify the opposition’s “strongest point” and then undermine that strength with a campaign of smear and innuendo in the media. With corruption looming as a major threat to continued Republican control of the House and Senate, Rove would naturally seek out a vulnerable Democrat to even the odds.
Tactics of entrapment were used to “get” Jefferson, who has not been charged and maintains his innocence. An FBI agent posing as the agent of an African company allegedly handed Jefferson $100,000 in cash bribes as the video cameras rolled.
Newhouse News carried a report last year following the FBI search of Jefferson’s homes in Washington and New Orleans comparing the probe to the FBI’s ABSCAM in the early 1980s in which FBI agents dressed as Arab sheiks offered cash bribes to lawmakers. Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.), a pro-labor lawmakers and several others were forced to resign at that time.
The probe of Jefferson, the Newhouse report states, has “all the markings of an undercover sting operation.” Former U.S. Attorney for Louisiana Harry Rosenberg told Newhouse, “Following ABSCAM, there was an outcry regarding the tension between entrapment and legitimate governmental investigations.” When entrapment tactics are used against elected officials, he added, “approval must come from the highest levels of the Justice Department.”
A congressional report in 1983, following ABSCAM, criticized the sting operations as “a license for agents to assume false identities to see what criminal activities could be detected and developed across the country.”
When the FBI, in 1990, “caught then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry on camera smoking crack in the Vista Hotel, it appeared to be an open and shut case.” But the jury perceived it differently: a white, Reagan Republican federal prosecutor was railroading a Black elected official. They found Barry guilty of one misdemeanor, drug possession.
There is a long and sordid history of targeting Black elected officials in these dirty trick operations going back to the racist vendetta against Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) in the 1960s. He was censured and forced to resign. His real transgression was his lead role in pushing through the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, Medicare and the anti-poverty programs while also opposing the Vietnam War. A more recent example is Philadelphia Mayor John Street. As he was campaigning for reelection facing a tough Republican challenger, aides discovered an FBI bug hidden in Street’s office. Outraged voters returned Street to office in a landslide.
Tim Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the People’s Weekly World political correspondent