2008 presidential hopefuls have mixed response to Jefferson raid

In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) congressional office this month, several members of Congress who have their sights set on the presidential nomination in 2008 have expressed varying degrees of concern about the unprecedented search and its possible constitutional ramifications.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who recently announced his intention to explore a presidential run, expressed concern not only about the search but also about the alleged improprieties that led to the raid.

“This matter raises several concerns — not only about whether an FBI raid of a congressional office was necessary but also about the activities that are the focus of the FBI’s investigation,” he said in a statement yesterday. “We need to not only protect the separation of powers between the branches of government, but we also must act to protect the public’s right to fair, open, and honest government.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview with John King on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Monday that, while sanctuary for lawmakers who violate the law should not be tolerated, party leaders should have been notified before the federal government’s search began.

“But if … there’s strong evidence that someone has committed a crime, I don’t think you could justify some kind of sanctuary,” McCain said.

The Department of Justice did not notify party leaders before the May 20 raid on Jefferson’s office inside the Rayburn House Office Building, causing a bipartisan uproar over whether the separation of powers set out in the Constitution had been violated.

On May 25, President Bush ordered the seized records to be sealed for 45 days to allow the administration and House leadership to resolve issues and concerns over how the documents were obtained.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told host Chris Wallace that the search of Jefferson’s office was appropriate because a search warrant was issued.

“If there are accusations of bribery, of having lost the trust, abused the trust of the American people, criminal activity, no House member, no senator, nobody in government should be above the law of the land, period,” Frist said.

“And a search warrant was obtained to go in,” he added.

Frist also indicated that he supports Bush’s move to seal the documents obtained during the FBI’s search for 45 days “to let things settle down.”

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) weighed in on the issue last week through a spokesman. Allen expressed many of the same thoughts as Frist, explaining that the search appeared to be a normal progression in a criminal investigation, not an unconstitutional raid.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it at all,” Allen said. “From what I have been able to read on this particular investigation, it seems appropriate.”

He added, “I’m not one of those who gets carried away with the separation-of-powers argument in this case. To me, it is a reasonable search in the midst of a criminal investigation.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) hedged his answer to the separation-of-powers question when asked by NBC’s “Meet the Press” host, Tim Russert. Hagel said that although he was unfamiliar with all the facts of the case he thought the FBI handled the search awkwardly.

“Well, first, we all need to reaffirm that no individual is above the law — whether it’s a congressman, a senator, certainly a president,” Hagel said. “I think the president is right in pulling this back a little bit.”

Hagel said that while the Jefferson raid has become a contentious issue there are ranges of other issues that have fueled frustration among Republican members of Congress and the White House.

Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), declined to comment on the issue.

“Senator Clinton remains focused on being the best senator she can be for the people of New York,” he said.

A spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the only member of the House who has publicly expressed an interest in running for president, declined to comment on the Jefferson raid.

Jefferson is under investigation for allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, according to court documents. In the last month, his former aide Brett Pfeffer and Kentucky businessman Vernon Jackson have negotiated plea agreements with the government.

The House ethics committee has also begun an investigation into the Jefferson case.

Spokesmen for Sens. Evan Bayh (D- Ind.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and McCain did not return calls for comment.