By the end of last week, Hastert was tempering his rhetoric, especially after Bush announced his decision to seal the records. In a USA Today editorial published Friday, Hastert praised Bush’s decision and said, “The issue that has concerned me, as Speaker, since Saturday night is not if the FBI should be able to search a member of Congress’ office, but rather how to do it within the boundaries of the Constitution.”
Hastert also emphasized that, “If the information we have read about the behavior of [Jefferson] seems as obvious to a jury as it does to me, he deserves to be vigorously prosecuted. I do not want to do anything that will interfere with that prosecution.”
Hastert and other leaders have made clear that they should and will preface any further comments about the FBI raid with that type of statement, so it does not appear that they are actually trying to shield anyone from prosecution.
“Everyone agrees that we should not look like we are on the side of Congressman Jefferson, and we need to do a better job of communicating that we think the Justice Department needs to get to the bottom of the matter,” said a Republican leadership aide.
As for the substantive fight with the Justice Department, both sides intend to use the 45 days during which the Jefferson records will be sealed to try to reach a deal on how to proceed.
And after being largely absent from the debate most of the week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to express his own concerns about the raid.
While Hastert has met with Bush to discuss the issue, most of the substantive negotiations have taken place between House officials and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, a former House Judiciary Committee staffer.
As of Friday, the House Judiciary panel was scheduled to hold a hearing today on the matter titled, “RECKLESS JUSTICE: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”