In his own version of a Stephen Colbert moment, House Speaker Dennis Hastert told George W. Bush Tuesday that the FBI's search of William Jefferson's House office crossed the line when it comes to the separation of powers.
"My opinion is that they took the wrong path," Hastert said after he met with the president. "They need to back up, and we need to go from there."
Congressional Republicans have complained before about life at the receiving end of executive branch arrogance -- the handling of the Dubai Ports World deal comes to mind and they seem to view Saturday night's search as part and parcel of it. In a nice bit of carefully attributed understatement, the New York Times says today that "some Republicans" are saying that the Bush Justice Department has "often pushed the limits on legal interpretations involving issues like the treatment of terrorism detainees and surveillance."
"Some Republicans" haven't seemed particularly concerned when the Bush administration has been holding detainees indefinitely or listening in on the telephone calls of Americans. But the prospect that the FBI could be rummaging through their office files -- AMERICAblog's John Aravosis has a list of suggested targets -- sure seems to have gotten their attention. As the Washington Post notes, House Majority Leader John Boehner has taken to referring to the incident as the "Justice Department's invasion of the legislative branch."
Democrats, meanwhile, are beginning the process of putting some distance between themselves and the target of Saturday's search. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with other Democratic leaders Tuesday, and they agreed that Jefferson should resign from his spot on the House Ways and Means Committee. Pelosi won't comment publicly about the resignation question, however, and Jefferson says he's not going anywhere.
Update: Pelosi has now gone public with her request that Jefferson step down from his committee seat "in the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus." Jefferson is refusing, saying that "none of the matters reported to be under scrutiny involve issues under jurisdiction of the Ways and Means committee," and calling Pelosi's request both "unprecedented" and "discriminatory."