Dennis Hastert’s anger over the FBI search of a fellow congressman’s Capitol Hill office is disturbing, especially since the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals recently reassured us that we have the best Congress money can buy.

Of the $100,000 the FBI allegedly videotaped William Jefferson receiving to bribe a Nigerian official, $90,000 was found hidden in Jefferson’s freezer. (The Louisiana congressman had been working on a deal that would net his family a 5 percent to 7 percent stake in the telecommunications company.)

Unbelievably, however, both Speaker of the House Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were in agreement that the FBI had gone too far in daring to search a congressman’s office as part of an official investigation. Hmmm … . Assuming that no one is above the law, who should be allowed to investigate corrupt government officials? The Texas Rangers? Royal Canadian Mounties?

Rather than berating the FBI and declaring congressional offices to be beyond the reach of the law, why doesn’t Hastert use his position to shame and expose congressmen of both parties who use their positions for personal gain? With congressional approval ratings at record lows, this would be an opportune moment for congressional leaders to help restore the public trust by cleaning house rather than rushing to the defense of a man caught hiding a suitcase of $100 bills.

Influence peddling stinks to high heaven and should be stopped, whether it’s blatant like William Jefferson’s or more subtle in the form of carefully crafted spending amendments to funnel pork to political contributors. Every few years an Abscam, House Post Office or lobbying scandal reminds us how corrupt politicians will become without intense oversight. What’s amazing, however, is that no matter how many times guys like Duke Cunningham are publicly disgraced as a result of greed and arrogance, other congressmen will continue to solicit bribes until they too are caught.

The risk of Washington operating like a Third World banana republic where politicians grab all they can before the country goes bankrupt is very real. Our congressmen have the same temptations and the same human nature as every other politician the world over. And the only way to ensure that the rule of law triumphs over the rule of the jungle is through accountability and transparency. Just like the Federal Aviation Administration checks the airworthiness of passenger airlines, our Justice Department should continually monitor Congress to ensure that corruption is not allowed to destroy the public’s confidence in the institutions of government.

I once spent several months in a country where bribery had become the accepted way of life and where it seemed everybody was for sale. Even low-level government officials from the visa registrar to the traffic police were on the take and demanded payola in order to do their jobs (or to leave you alone). It was a chaotic, demeaning environment in which most citizens felt that the only way to get ahead was to become dishonest themselves.

Americans should never allow that to happen here. Congressmen of both parties should have a healthy fear both of the law they’ve sworn to uphold and the people they were elected to represent.

Craig Ziemba is a military pilot who lives in Meridian. His second book, Give War A Chance, is

available at area Bible Bookstores.

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