In 2005 the President signed legislation that Congress hadn't passed.
The bill in question authorized money for transportation projects and earmarked a lot for particular projects. Sometime after Congress passed the legislation, and before the President signed the bill, someone secretly rewrote one of the earmarks. This was the Coconut Road earmark for highway work in Florida (Allocating scarce resources among competing transportation projects, Ben Muse, August 25, 2007).
There's some reason to believe Alaska's only Congressman, Republican Don Young, who was Chairman of the House Transportation Committee at the time, was involved.
I'm reminded of this because the Senate voted 64 to 28 yesterday (Apr 17) to ask the Justice Department to look in to what happened: Justice asked to probe Young earmark (Erika Bolstad, Anchorage Daily News, Apr 18).
Thursday, support for the Justice Department investigation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., drew an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans, many of whom said they were concerned about the integrity of their legislative process. Twenty of the votes of support came from Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader.
House leaders had a muted response to the Senate vote, but indicated they were concerned about what had happened. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the matter should be taken up by the House ethics committee. The Republican House leader, Rep. John Boehner, said he also had no objections to an investigation....
Young is connected to several ongoing investigations. He has spent $1.1 million from his campaign fund recently on lawyers: Young's legal fees surpass $1 million (Erika Bolstad, Anchorage Daily News, April 16).
The "Justice asked to probe..." story above notes an interesting constitutional question:
Both of Alaska's senators voted against the Justice Department investigation, with Republican Sen. Ted Stevens calling it a "dangerous precedent." But both he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did vote for an alternative proposal posed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Coburn, who opposes earmarks and has been critical of the Alaska delegation, had asked for a bipartisan House and Senate committee to investigate the earmark. It would then refer its findings to the proper authorities. His proposal had 49 supporters, but needed 60 votes for approval.
Later, Coburn said he feared that the Senate's vote Thursday was unconstitutional. Congress can't order a criminal investigation any more than the Justice Department can investigate violations of congressional rules, Coburn said. It violates the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution, which keeps investigators from using legislative materials as evidence of wrongdoing in criminal investigations.
"Violating congressional rules is not a crime, yet Congress has just given away its right to police itself with this misguided amendment," Coburn said.
His concerns were echoed by congressional budget and ethics watchdog groups, who say they worry that a criminal investigation won't get at the heart of what is essentially a procedural problem.