Congress, Justice standoff is defused

first_imgBefore Bush’s decision to step in, what law enforcement officials described as a tense drama had played out as Justice Department officials, backed by career prosecutors, refused to give up the material seized in the search of Jefferson’s office. At one point, Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general who was once chief counsel to the House majority leader, told Scott Palmer, chief of staff to Hastert, that he would quit rather than relinquish the materials to Jefferson. By Wednesday evening, Justice Department lawyers and lawyers for the House had staked out nonnegotiable positions, with House lawyers demanding return of the Jefferson documents. Justice lawyers, backed by the FBI, would not agree to hand over any of the material, which included a copy of the hard drive of Jefferson’s office computer, along with calendars and date books. Throughout Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who had signed off on the search warrant of Jefferson’s office, sought unsuccessfully to speak with Hastert. At the same time, McNulty, who has long-term Republican ties to the Hill, sought to placate infuriated lawmakers. The stalemate was broken Thursday morning, when White House aides suggested an intermediate step of turning the material over to the solicitor-general. Sealing the material for 45 days allows the House and the Justice Department to continue to discuss a more permanent resolution of the matter, which could be important in several other pending criminal inquiries that have focused on sitting House members of both parties. Those include the influence-buying inquiry involving Abramoff, the former lobbyist, and the broadening investigation that grew out of the inquiry into the activities of Randy Cunningham, the San Diego Republican who was a member of the House Appropriations Committee.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2In one interview, the normally reticent speaker portrayed a report broadcast by ABC News on Wednesday evening as calculated retaliation and said that he had demanded a retraction. The Justice Department issued firm denials of the ABC report, which was attributed to anonymous federal sources, regarding Hastert’s advocacy for Indian tribes – a pet cause of the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In a morning interview with a radio station in his home state, WGN in Chicago, Hastert said: “This is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people,” he said. He stopped short of that charge when pressed later by reporters on the West Front steps of the Capitol. But he and his allies were clearly furious. “I don’t know if this leak out of the Justice Department or wherever it came was a coincidence or not,” the speaker said. “But I will let anybody else try to connect the dots.” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said senior officials at the Justice Department had assured the White House there was no effort to embarrass Hastert. Meanwhile, ABC News continued to defend its report. “We stand by the story,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, vice president of ABC News. WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush intervened directly Thursday in a tense constitutional fight between Congress and the Justice Department by ordering records seized from a congressional office over the weekend sealed for 45 days. “Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries,” the president said in his first statement on the swirl of events surrounding the FBI’s search of the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La. “Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out.” The president said that the material in question would be turned over for 45 days to the solicitor-general, the Justice Department official who represents the government before the Supreme Court. That step would allow the Justice Department to claim it had not given up material that prosecutors regarded as lawfully obtained evidence needed for a criminal case. The presidential intervention came as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, normally the administration’s champion on Capitol Hill, suggested that the Justice Department had tried to intimidate him through a news leak because of his challenge of the agency’s authority to conduct the search. last_img read more