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MONDAY, MAY 29, 2006
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EDITORIAL

When politicians scrutinize one another, public benefits

Congressional leaders are upset that the FBI, for the first time in 219 years, searched a congressman's office for evidence in a criminal investigation.

The May 20 raid targeted the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who is accused of bribery. The FBI has strong evidence against Mr. Jefferson, including videotape and $90,000 found in his freezer. His fellow lawmakers are being careful not to defend him, but are asserting the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial. Congress is legislative; the FBI is part of the executive branch.

House leaders admitted last week that FBI agents with a court-issued warrant can legally search a congressman's office, according to The Associated Press. But they want guidelines set for any future searches. Recent and pending cases against lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay come to mind.

Most ordinary Americans, we suspect, put a higher priority on honest government than on separation of powers. If members of Congress want to protect their constitutional prerogatives, they should keep their own house in order — by policing their colleagues' ethical behavior and regulating campaign contributions, for example.

The ongoing trial of Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman, prosecuted by a Republican administration, is bringing out fresh evidence that sleazy conduct and trading favors for money occur at the state level, too.

Having politicians keep an eye on other politicians — whether it's Republicans watching Democrats, Democrats watching Republicans, or the different branches of government monitoring one another — benefits the people. There is another constitutional doctrine that goes hand in hand with separation of powers. It's called checks and balances.

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