The latest ABC poll shows that House Speaker Denny Hastert miscalculated badly by erupting with outrage over the raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s offices. An overwhelming majority of Americans approve of the search performed by the FBI regardless of party affiliation:
In the rift between Congress and the Justice Department, Americans side overwhelmingly with law enforcement: Regardless of precedent and the separation of powers, 86 percent say the FBI should be allowed to search a Congress member’s office if it has a warrant.
That view is broadly bipartisan, this ABC News poll finds, ranging from 78 percent among Democrats to 94 percent of Republicans. …
Sixty-five percent of Americans give a negative rating to the ethics and honesty of members of Congress. More, 54 percent, rate their own member’s ethics positively, but that’s down from 69 percent in a 1989 poll.
Nonetheless, support for FBI searches is about equally high whether people see Congress as honest or not. That suggests that the interests of law enforcement to investigate wrongdoing simply prevails in the public’s mind over concerns about separation of powers, precedent, and the possibility prosecutors could use such searches to try to intimidate lawmakers. The question in this poll described both sides of the argument.
This shows that Hastert’s hysterics over separation of powers failed to convince anyone to turn Capitol Hill into a sanctuary for wayward politicians. Americans have much more concern over politicians selling their votes than in an arcane (and legally insupportable) argument over the potential for intimidation. Perhaps that comes from a couple of decades of legislative action that has produced asset seizures prior to convictions in drug cases, federal intervention in land rights due to overzealous prosecution of endangered-species regulations, and the blizzard of Congressional subpoenas directed at the executive branch for an unending series of hyperventilated investigations.
Or, maybe, it’s that the American public will not endorse the notion that election to public office grants an immunity from subpoenas and search warrants.
Hastert and Nancy Pelosi have yet to comprehend the paradigm shift in American politics and culture. We demand accountability from our elected officials. When they demand special privileges designed to block that accountability, we no longer remain silent.