WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner said Tuesday he will summon Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller before his House panel to testify about their decision to search a lawmaker’s office.
“I want to have Attorney General Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller up here to tell us how they reached the conclusion they did,” said Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and one of President Bush’s most loyal House allies.
Gonzales has said that the search of Rep. William Jefferson’s offices was legal and necessary because the Louisiana Democrat had not cooperated with investigators’ efforts to gain access to evidence in a bribery probe. An affidavit on which the search warrant was based said investigators had found $90,000 stashed in the freezer of Jefferson’s house.
Even as Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced his hard line on the administration, congressional and Justice Department lawyers were working behind the scenes to meet on guidelines for any future searches.
Some lawmakers who had once criticized the May 20 search of Rep. William Jefferson’s office were backing off. Still others of both parties defended the search, saying an affidavit outlined charges that the Louisiana Democrat may have accepted bribes in exchange for his support of business dealings in Africa.
“I am extremely disappointed that some in this body, including the speaker and the minority leader, feel that somehow our actions are sacrosanct and above public scrutiny,” said Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla. “Congress is hiding behind a shield that is not available to the average American.”
But Sensenbrenner signaled that he would not be joining those who had softened their criticism of the raid and in fact planned two more hearings on the subject. He also suggested he might introduce legislation codifying any guidelines for such searches.
One hearing, Sensenbrenner said, would include Gonzales and Mueller.
“They didn’t get it right this time,” Sensenbrenner said during the first session, titled “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”
Democrats supported the hearing and the prospect of a thorough, televised questioning of the Bush administration.
“We’ve never been told why the search had to be done in the middle of the night,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan. “We’ve never learned why the member in question was not permitted to have his attorneys present while his offices were searched for some 18 hours.”