6/04/2007

New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson officially indicted on 16 federal counts...


ABC7 Chicago: Grand jury to indict Rep. Jefferson in bribery investigation...





In the months leading up to the midterm elections last fall I was shocked and confused when Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and the majority of the Republican Conference came out in support of New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson, whom had recently become the first member of Congress ever to provoke the FBI into performing warranted searches of his Capitol Hill offices.

Hastert and his colleagues were motivated to stand with their colleague from across the aisle on the grounds that such an investigation violated the underlying principle of separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal Government.

At the time it was easy to criticize Hastert for his decision to stand on principle, even in the face of an inevitable Democratic ascension and the dissolution of the Republican majority, largely due to the GOP's own "culture of corruption", and I doubt a Republican member of the minority would receive the same unconditional support of Speaker Pelosi if a similar situation were to arise during the current Congress. While I can understand Hastert's motivation, I do not understand how he could have thought it politically advantageous to so firmly stand with an obviously suspect Congressman who was basically caught red-handed with his hand in the corporate piggy bank.

The day I met the Speaker while working as an intern in his Washington office during the summer of 2005 he confided in myself and my fellow interns that he had just had a troubling conversation with a Republican member, whom he did not name at the time but later turned out to be Duke Cunningham, regarding real estate transactions that were under investigation in California. As it turned out, Cunningham was speedily indicted, convicted and sentenced to what will likely amount to the rest of his life in prison for those shady dealings, which along with other Republican ethical lapses was the primary impetus for the rise of the Democrats to the majority in the House. Hopefully Hastert didn't go too far in his defense of Jefferson, because if the Republican's are to win back the House or Representatives in 2008 they will have to reestablish the moral high ground over their Democratic colleagues. Jefferson's indictment is surely a good start toward that end, but many more liberal heads will have to roll before voters are likely to forget the disastrous record of the 109th Congress.

Congressman Jefferson faces charges surrounding alleged kick-back payments he accepted, $90,000 of which he subsequently attempted to conceal in the freezer of his Washington DC apartment during an FBI raid, the discovery of which led the FBI to seek warrants to search his Congressional offices, which had theretofore been beyond the Bureau's jurisdiction. If convicted Jefferson faces nearly 200 years behind bars, which makes it seem unlikely that the unprecedented constitutional circumstances surrounding the tactics used by FBI agents when gathering evidence against Jefferson will provide the legal leverage he needs to beat the wrap on bribery and corruption charges.

Two of Jefferson's associates have already been indicted and negotiated plea bargains for their roles in the conspiracy. Brett Pfeffer, a former-Jefferson aide plead guilty to soliciting bribes on Jefferson's behalf and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Another Jefferson confidant, Kentucky telecommunications executive Vernon Jackson, plead guilty to paying $400,000 to $1,000,000 in bribes to the Congressman in exchange for his assistance securing business deals in Nigeria and other African nations, and was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Both former-Jefferson associates agreed to cooperate in the case against the Congressman in exchange for their plea deals, which substantially lessened the hard time they faced for their role in the alleged bribery.

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