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Authors: William Bernhardt

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense

Capitol Conspiracy (7 page)

BOOK: Capitol Conspiracy
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“My God,” Christina said, shouting to be heard over the growing tumult, “is that possible? Could he really get a new amendment to the Constitution passed in a few weeks?”

Ben carefully viewed the faces of the people standing all around him. “In this climate? Anything is possible.”

“Is that a good thing?”

Ben took a deep breath, then slowly released it. “Let’s go read the bill.”

6

U.S. S
ENATE
, R
USSELL
B
UILDING
,
O
FFICE
S-212-D
W
ASHINGTON
, D.C.

“C
an you believe this?” Christina exclaimed. “He wants to repeal the Bill of Rights!”

“Not all of it,” Ben said quietly. “Just the inconvenient parts.”

“But isn’t that the whole point of the Bill of Rights? The Founding Fathers added it to make sure that no law could ever remove them.”

“You know what the president’s response to that suggestion will be. The Founding Fathers thought the worst threat imaginable was Hessian mercenaries with muskets that took a minute and a half to load and fire. They never envisioned snipers with MI-50s. Or ricinlaced letters. Or entire regions of the world wielding weapons of mass destruction aimed within our borders.”

“But this is the Bill of Rights! When I took Constitutional Law from Professor Tepker, he taught us that the Bill of Rights was inviolable.”

“It has been, in theory. But you know as well as I do that in reality, we restrict those rights all the time.” Ben dropped his copy of the bill on top of his desk. “There are many restrictions on the freedom of speech—you can’t shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. You can’t post bills on private property. We have gun legislation that restricts the right to bear arms. There are more restrictions on the right of assembly than I can count.”

“Yes, there have been reasonable, commonsense abridgements of rights here and there. But not wholesale suspensions.” She pointed at the bill that lay between them. “This is something else entirely.”

“Yes,” he agreed solemnly. “This is something else entirely.”

He quickly scanned the bill one more time, just to make sure he understood it properly:

RESOLVED by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, two-thirds of each House proposing that an amendment to the Constitution of the United States be adopted which shall become law and a full and effective part of the Constitution of the United States when said proposed amendment is ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures of the fifty states.

The proposed amendment shall read as follows:

Section 1.
Effective immediately, upon the declaration by the president of the United States that a clear and present danger to the safety of the United States and the peoples therein exists, an Emergency Security Council, headed by the director of Homeland Security and consisting of the leaders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and three other members appointed by the President of the United States, shall be convened.

Section 2.
After due and deliberate consideration, if the Emergency Security Council declares that a state of national emergency exists, the council may assume any and all necessary plenipotentiary powers.

Section 3.
These plenipotentiary powers assumed by the Emergency Security Council include the power to supersede the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, overriding said constitutional authority.

Section 4.
These plenipotentiary powers shall exist only until such time as the Council declares that the state of national emergency no longer exists. At the time of said proclamation, the suspension of the enumerated amendments shall cease, and they shall regain all prior full force and effect.

Section 5.
During any such period of national emergency, all other rights and privileges of the citizens of the United States not specifically suspended herein shall remain in full force and effect.

“I think it’s frightening,” Christina said. “This Emergency Security Council could wipe away every important civil right on the books.”

“In times of national crisis,” Ben noted.

“As defined by the president and his Emergency Council.”

“Would you rather leave it to Congress? Then it would never happen. We could have bombs dropping like snowflakes and they’d still be arguing over parliamentary procedure.”

“I’m surprised the president even bothered with Congress. He obviously wants to ram this right down the throats of the states.”

“He didn’t have any choice.” Ben pulled out a copy of the Constitution he always kept in the top drawer of his desk. “Technically, the president has no power to propose amendments—only Congress does. The Constitution also allows state legislatures to propose amendments, but it has never been done that way. Congress must propose the amendment by resolution. The resolution then goes to the Rules Committee in the House and the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. If they pass it, the amendment goes to the floor for a vote by the full membership of both bodies. If they both pass it, then copies are sent to the governors of each state, who then pass it along to the state legislatures for consideration. It takes three-fourths of them—thirty-eight of the fifty.” Ben sighed. “It’s a complicated process. The Founding Fathers meant it to be. They recognized there might be need for change in the future. But they wanted it to be well-considered and deliberate—not something that could be accomplished easily in a rash reactionary moment.”

“Which is exactly what the president is doing here. Why do you think he urged everyone to move so quickly? He knows he needs momentum to keep this thing alive. If it gets bogged down anywhere along the way, the chances of passage will drop significantly. He’s trying to steamroller this through before people have a chance to think clearly about it. Exactly what the prudent Founding Fathers didn’t want.”

“You know,” Ben said, “the Founding Fathers were not a bunch of old fogey conservatives. They were basically young wild-eyed radicals who overthrew one government and created another.”

“And we need to stop President Blake before he does the same thing. He’s trying to use a tragedy to sweep away our civil rights. Surely no one—not even the most conservative of the conservatives—will be that foolhardy. Right?” She swiveled Ben’s chair around so that he faced her. “Right?”

Ben pursed his lips, then said quietly, “Let’s read it over one more time.”

7

J. E
DGAR
H
OOVER
B
UILDING
B
ALLISTICS
R
ANGE
FBI H
EADQUARTERS
, W
ASHINGTON
, D.C.

D
eputy Director Joel Salter walked down to the second-level basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building with no small amount of dread. He hated this assignment. Ever since the disaster of April 19, he had been made permanent liaison to the new director of Homeland Security. And ever since Lucas Marshall was discovered dead, burned and mutilated almost beyond recognition, the director of Homeland Security had been former deputy director Carl Lehman. And he always seemed to be accompanied by his new deputy director, Nichole Muldoon, the only woman he’d ever known capable of giving him both a hard-on and chills simultaneously.

He found Lehman and Muldoon leaving the ballistics range.

“Did you see that?” Lehman said, bubbling with enthusiasm like a kid at Christmas. “Did you see how high I scored?”

Even though the question was directed at Salter, Nichole Muldoon took it upon herself to answer. “I did. You scored quite well. Almost as well as I did.”

He waved her away. “Ah—you have younger eyes.” He showed Salter the target he had hand-pumped two rounds into. “Sweet, huh?”

Salter resisted the temptation to roll his eyes.
Amateurs. You pull people who haven’t had the proper training out of nowhere and suddenly make them more important than the FBI, and this is what you get. They think the ballistics range is a toy shop.
“I understand you wanted to tour the labs?”

Lehman and Muldoon exchanged a look. “Well…”

“The FBI crime labs were established by J. Edgar Hoover in 1932. They were the first of their kind, and they are still the best forensic laboratories in the world. What would you like to see first? The DNA lab? Hair and Fiber unit? Blood works, maybe? Luminol is always fun to play with.”

Lehman and Muldoon did not indicate any interest.

“Okay, there’s the spectrograph—great for paint analysis. Chemistry? Can probably find the boys doing an autopsy or boiling human organs. Serology? Explosives? Firearms and Toolmarks? Investigative Computer Training? Physical Training? Practical Applications? Forensic Science Research?”

“To tell you the truth,” Muldoon said, stepping forward slightly, “we’d like to meet with you privately.”

She was still flushed and sweaty from the firing rage. Salter could feel the heat radiating off her. Could it be accidental? Or did she know what effect the words “meet with you privately” would have on him, coming from her?

“Follow me.” He escorted them into a nearby interrogation room and locked the door behind them. It was a standard room—table and two chairs, with a one-way mirror so interrogations could be observed. Salter offered Muldoon a chair but, of course, she didn’t take it.

“Can we just cut straight to the point, Salter?” Lehman said, direct as ever, now that he’d been removed from his playthings. “I’d like to know how the Feebs feel about this bill the president has proposed.”

“I don’t think there’s a consensus on that.”

“But you must have some idea what people are thinking.”

He shrugged. “Mixed bag. Some think it’s a dangerous precedent. Others think it’s the only chance we have to protect ourselves in the modern world.”

“And what about your boss? What does he think?”

Salter considered for a moment, but in the end, he couldn’t think of any reason not to be honest. “He’s against it.”

“Really? Hanging Bob Banner? Worried about civil rights?”

Salter offered a weak grin. “I think he’s more pissed off because the bill makes you the chairman of the Emergency Security Council instead of him.”

Lehman let loose a belly laugh that could probably be heard in the next room. “I like that. At least it’s honest.”

Muldoon arched an eyebrow. “Engaging in a little schaden-freude?”

Lehman stared back at her with a look that suggested he thought she might’ve just said something dirty. “I just like to see Hanging Bob get his comeuppance. See who the president really trusts and who he doesn’t.”

“The director doesn’t think it has anything to do with trust,” Salter said. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Or competence. Or talent. He thinks it has to do with the fact that you play golf with the president every other Tuesday. And that you made a big contribution to his campaign fund.”

Lehman laughed all the louder. “Sounds like sour grapes to me.”

Privately, Salter tended to agree, but he certainly wasn’t going to say that. “I gather then that you and your department are all for this thing.”

“It was my idea, son. We need it, if we’re going to survive. You think all those Middle East maniacs care about civil rights? Hell, no. They just want to blow us off the map. Destroy our way of life.”

Salter addressed Muldoon, not quite looking her in the eye. “And that goes for you, too, I guess. Faithful follower and all that?”

“Actually, no.”

Lines creased Lehman’s forehead. Salter got the impression he wasn’t accustomed to being disagreed with—especially not by his second in command.

“I think it’s crazy,” Muldoon continued. “One horrible incident and we decide to eradicate our fundamental freedoms?”

“There’s no freedom if we’re all dead,” Lehman countered.

“Masterfully argued,” Muldoon said, and for once, Salter liked her a little, especially as he watched Lehman try to figure out if he’d been complimented or insulted.

“You think this is the first time something like this has happened?” Lehman asked. “I can assure you it isn’t. I’ve been around a long time, and I’m a student of history, too. The real history, not what they teach you in sixth-grade civics class. Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts? Clear violation of freedom of speech, but that didn’t stop John Adams from pushing for it when he started getting scared. During the Civil War, our beloved Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and replaced civil trials with military trials. He didn’t have any constitutional amendment backing him up, either. He just did it. President Wilson gave us the infamous ‘Red Scare’ and Palmer raids during and after World War One. During World War Two, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that put 3,500 Japanese Americans who had not even been
accused
of crimes into concentration camps. Nixon’s Organized Crime Control Act suspended search and seizure laws and most of the accused’s Fifth Amendment rights.”

“Yes,” Muldoon said, “and if all those violations could occur with the Bill of Rights in place, imagine what might happen if someone got the right to suspend the Bill of Rights for an indefinite period.”

“It’s only a temporary measure.”

“Yeah, it was only a temporary measure that suspended the Bill of Rights in India in 1962. A national emergency was declared and an emergency council was convened, and the Bill of Rights was held in abeyance. For six years. Then they suspended them again not ten years later, in 1975. How do we know that won’t happen here? Every time some worrisome little Orange Alert occurs, our fundamental liberties could fly out the window.”

“Are you suggesting I might abuse my power?”

“I’m suggesting,” Muldoon replied, not backing down in the least, “that the whole amendment is a very bad idea.”

Exasperated, Lehman blew air through his teeth. He turned his attention to Salter. “I gather you share your boss’s sentiments?”

Salter took a deep breath. “I have concerns about giving so much authority to a relatively new governmental department. I think the director of the FBI would’ve been a better choice.”

“I’m just one member on a committee of six.”

“I know how these things work. The chairman will wield a huge amount of authority and influence. Especially in the face of a crisis.”

“You Feebs just don’t get the picture,” Lehman said, and this time there was a touch of a growl in his voice. “Your day is done. When the president decided to move the Secret Service—the men protecting his butt on a daily basis—out of Treasury, did he give them to you? Hell, no. He gave them to Homeland Security. We’re today, not yesterday. We’ve got 184,000 employees. We’re the third largest cabinet department—only the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are larger. You Feebs are pipsqueaks compared to us. We’re not sitting around stroking ourselves because we caught Dillinger two hundred years ago. We’re making things happen today.”

“Yes,” Salter said dryly. “I thought the color-coded alert chart was a brilliant innovation. Changed the face of the nation.”

Lehman’s anger was not disguised. “You laugh all you want, but those alerts gave a lot of comfort to a lot of people.”

“Who are you kidding? All they ever did was scare people to death.” Salter drew in his breath. “You know as well as I do that ever since 9/11, the FBI’s number one priority has been counterterrorism. We’ve used the powers the Patriot Act gave us to stop numerous terrorist plots.”

Lehman leaned forward for a counteroffensive, but Muldoon held him back with a light touch of her hand on his chest. “It’s okay, Carl,” she said quietly. “We got what we came for.”

Salter watched carefully as her hand lingered on his chest, scrutinized the subtle expression on her face. Was she doing him? Was that how she rose so fast? Why he never went anywhere without her?

“I’m sorry to hear you’re not on board with this bill,” Lehman said, obviously wrapping up the conversation. “I’d hoped we could all be on the same page with this.”

Salter eyed Muldoon. “Sounds like you’re not on the same page in your own department.”

“Yeah, but I can handle my own department. You Feebs are sneaky. I worry about you.”

“It’s in the hands of Congress, not the FBI.”

“Right. Decision-making by the clueless. It’s the American way. Come on, Muldoon. Let’s get out of here.”

She followed her master’s bidding and left the conference room, but as she passed by Salter, she mouthed, “Let’s talk.”

Salter felt his blood pressure rising as the door closed behind her. Was it what she said, or just those full lips, that ruby red lipstick? She was so damn sexy.

He hated working with her. Them.

Or maybe he just hated himself. Or maybe it amounted to the same thing.

BOOK: Capitol Conspiracy
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