Immigration Policy, FBI Raid Stir Congress

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News from the nation's capital includes a debate over immigration policy and a dispute between Congress and Justice officials over an FBI raid. Liane Hansen discusses developments with Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The air was hot and heavy over the U.S. capital as the week ended, but it wasn't due to early summer heat and humidity; it was from the considerable friction over a number of political issues, among them immigration reforms, spending measures and the war in Iraq.

There was also a flare-up between Congress and the Justice Department over Constitutional issues when files were seized in a raid of a House member's offices. That dispute nearly led to the resignations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and other senior Justice officials.

President Bush cooled things off by ordering that the evidence taken be sealed for 45 days so that Congress and Justice could reach a compromise.

Here to help us get a handle on what all of this means is Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for coming in, Doyle.

Mr. DOYLE MCMANUS (Washington Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: Well, first of all, the report that the Attorney General, the FBI Director, others at the Justice Department were prepared to quit, I mean this is pretty serious. Briefly, give us details about the seizure and the aftermath, and first, and how did it get to this level of bitterness?

Mr. MCMANUS: Well, Liane, this of course comes from the case of Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana, who, shall we say, accepted $100,000 fee as part of a Nigerian business deal. And remember that $90,000 of that ended up in his freezer. Well, the FBI is investigating what looks like a garden variety bribery case. They went to a judge, they got a warrant, but they forgot to tell the White House one thing: they were going to do something that had never been done before in the entire history of the United States Constitution and that is bust into the offices of a member of Congress on Capitol Hill and walk away with two cartons of records and computer disks and all kinds of stuff.

Well, Denny Hastert, the Speaker of the House, the conservative Republican Speaker of the House, went ballistic. Two reasons: one is, it hasn't been done before, and as the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert is in charge of guarding the prerogatives of Congress against the executive branch. Second reason, perhaps as important, perhaps more important: Mr. Jefferson is far from the only member of Congress under investigation.

The FBI, which is playing hardball this week, told one reporter they have more than 2,000 investigations. I think that means 2,000 allegations that they're investigating against members of Congress. And a large number of those are against Republicans. So if the FBI starts rifling through the files of one member of Congress, even if it's a liberal Democrat from Louisiana, that touches the interests of every member of Congress.

HANSEN: So what's going to happen next? I mean is it going to go into the courts? Is it going to have an effect on future investigations?

Mr. MCMANUS: Well, it will have an effect. As you said, President Bush intervened after the Attorney General and the FBI Director said that this might cause them to walk, and the whole thing has been frozen for 45 days.

My guess is that the administration will find a graceful way to climb down a bit, and they will subpoena the records, which is what the FBI and the Justice Department have done for decades and decades when chasing bad members of Congress.

HANSEN: Interesting bipartisan cooperation to see House Speaker Dennis Hastert and minority leader Nancy Pelosi joining forces. Is this kind of cooperation going to continue?

Mr. MCMANUS: Oh, it would be nice to think so, but you know, it really was ironic that after so many years of really bitter fighting between the two parties, the one thing they could agree on was that the FBI shouldn't be raiding their offices. I don't think this is the dawn of a new age of comity.

HANSEN: You know, the White House has had some accomplishments, so it seems like it might be a time to celebrate those. They had the confirmation of Michael Hayden, CIA Director. The Senate passed an immigration bill that the President likes. And so, but why are things, why do you think things are still in turmoil?

Mr. MCMANUS: Well, what we're seeing, and it's really quite fascinating, is a clear divergence between the interests of the White House and the Republican conference in the House of Representatives. Republicans running for reelection are coming under a lot of pressure from right and from left. They don't like President Bush's approach, especially on immigration. They don't like the path to citizenship, a core part of the Senate bill, and a core part of President Bush's approach. They're denouncing that as amnesty.

They want to keep their jobs, and they are losing confidence that the White House feels as strongly about that issue as they do. And that really is at the heart of the bitterness.

HANSEN: How likely is it that the conference committee where the bill, they're going to try to compromise those two bills from the Senate and the House, how likely are they able - will they be able to actually find something that everyone likes?

Mr. MCMANUS: You know, it's very difficult to see a way to a compromise. Certainly it's very difficult to see one early, because it is about a key part of the bill. And because conservatives have defined it as amnesty - and that really of course is a hot button word - what we're seeing here, in a sense, is one of the unexpected results of redistricting, of the Republicans' success at drawing districts that are safe for their members.

Remember that members of the House are in more - come from relatively homogenous districts. That means that their districts are more conservative than the country at large. They don't have a lot of running room to their right.

Now, that's been the key to their success, but it makes it very difficult for members of the House to move toward the center on this issue.

HANSEN: And briefly, this feud over spending: $2.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2007. No House Democrats voted for it, but conservative Republicans are angry. About what?

Mr. McMANUS: Ah, well, actually, here you have another quite fascinating split within the Republican Party between the deficit hawks and the old-fashioned, pork barrel spenders, the guys who - in the old-fashioned way - got ahead by delivering goodies for their districts. Now, this has been going on for the last two years, it's been growing. But in this case the conservatives thought they had an agreement to get earmarks out of the bill. They came back into the bill. They're mad as heck.

HANSEN: Doyle McManus is the Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for coming in today, Doyle.

Mr. McMANUS: Thank you, Liane.

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