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Ethics: Jefferson Should Resign

Because he can no longer serve as an effective representative for a district in dire need of strong representation, Jefferson should consider resigning for the good of his constituents.

JUNE 6, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ETHICS

Jefferson Should Resign

On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) on 16 counts, including racketeering, solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and conspiracy. As a result of the indictment, Jefferson stepped down yesterday from his seat on the Small Business Committee, which was his sole remaining committee assignment after being stripped of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee in June 2006 due to the federal investigation. Congress is moving swiftly to sort out Jefferson’s alleged ethical improprieties. The House last night approved a Democratic rule change that “would give the ethics committee 30 days after an indictment to initiate an investigation or explain why it declined to do so.” Congress also approved a Republican motion “demanding that the panel report back on whether his expulsion is merited.” Rep. Carolyn Kirkpatrick (D-MI), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, argued that the merits of Jefferson’s case should be tried “in a court of law instead of the chambers of public opinion.” In principle, the forced expulsion of Jefferson before he is actually found guilty of a crime would be hasty and unfair. As Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) said yesterday, however, “while Mr. Jefferson is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence to which all citizens are entitled, members of Congress must be held to a higher standard.” Because he can no longer serve as an effective representative for a district in dire need of strong representation, Jefferson should consider resigning for the good of his constituents.

COLD HARD CASH: The 94-page indictment — the culmination of a two-year federal investigation — alleges “that from 2000 to 2005 Mr. Jefferson sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, sometimes in the form of stock and retainer fees, from nearly a dozen companies involved in oil, communications, satellite transmission, sugar and other businesses, often for projects carried out in Africa.” In exchange, he used his seat in Congress “as a member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, to promote the companies’ business ventures — without disclosing his own financial stakes in the deals.” Jefferson is also accused of “offering to bribe an unidentified Nigerian official in exchange for assistance with business activities in which Mr. Jefferson and several other unidentified family members had a financial interest,” an apparent violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The evidence against Jefferson is strong. For instance, in 2005, he “was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire. … A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson’s home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers.” If he is convicted on all counts against him, Jefferson faces a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison.

A DISTRICT IN NEED OF EFFECTIVE REPRESENTATION: Jefferson was re-elected in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote to represent Louisiana’s 2nd district, an area which consists of “nearly all of the city of New Orleans.” Still reeling from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and preparing for a 2007 hurricane season that is expected to be “very active,” the residents of the 2nd district need a representative in Congress that can effectively legislate on their behalf. Jefferson can no longer do so. His removal from the House Ways and Means Committee has already diminished his “necessary clout to secure funds to help the region rebuild,” and the criminal cloud hovering over him now will only increase his ineffectiveness and reduce his ability to forge legislative compromises. “Here we are trying to get all of this money out of Congress, and here we have a longtime incumbent indicted on public corruption charges,” said Edward Renwick, a political scientist at Loyola University. “It doesn’t help Louisiana post-Katrina because he will be less effective.” Jefferson’s hometown newspaper, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has already called for his resignation, writing, “the congressman is entitled to his day in court. But the Louisianians who live in his district are entitled to something as well: a representative who can devote full time and energy to their many pressing concerns. Rep. Jefferson is not that person, and for that reason, he should step down.”

HYPOCRISY IN THE RANKS: The move by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) to seek Jefferson’s expulsion based solely on an indictment — rather than a guilty verdict — is not only wrong in principle, but it is also hypocritical. The last member of the House to be expelled from Congress was James Traficant (D-OH), who was voted out nearly four months after he was convicted of federal corruption charges. He was “only the second House member since the Civil War to be kicked out of Congress.” In September 2006, after Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) pled guilty to influence peddling, Boehner was asked on Fox News Sunday if Ney should resign from Congress. Boehner, who was then Majority Leader, said Ney shouldn’t be forced to leave office. “That’s a decision that he and his family are going to have to make,” Boehner told host Chris Wallace. When former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) resigned from Congress last year after being criminally-indicted for money laundering, Boehner sang his praises, saying “he has served our nation with integrity and honor, and I’m honored to call him my colleague and friend.” Many conservatives in Congress who are now pushing for a hasty expulsion of Jefferson were the same lawmakers attempting to change House ethics rules in 2005 so that indicted members could continue to hold leadership posts. They eventually reneged after “the so-called DeLay Rule” was heavily criticized.

UNDER THE RADAR

ADMINISTRATION — RIGHT WING PRESSES BUSH TO PARDON LIBBY: Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton sentenced Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, to 30 months in prison for lying during the investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. He is the “highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since the Iran-Contra affair.” The sentence was a “a victory for prosecutors,” who asked that Libby serve up to three years in prison; Libby’s lawyers had asked for no prison time. Next week, Walton will decide whether Libby will remain free pending appeal. He has indicated that he “is not inclined” to do so, which means that President Bush may have to decide “in a matter of weeks” whether to pardon Libby. The Washington Post reports that the “prospect of a pardon has become so sensitive inside the West Wing that top aides have been kept out of the loop, and even Bush friends have been told not to bring it up with the president.” Yet the right wing is heavily pushing for a pardon. During last night’s Republican presidential debate, six of the candidates said they would likely pardon the former White House aide, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accusing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of abusing “prosecutorial discretion.” The conservative National Review quickly posted an editorial on its website yesterday headlined “Pardon Him.” Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol posted a similar piece, arguing, “George W. Bush can do something to begin to make up for the injustice a prosecutor appointed by his own administration brought down on Scooter Libby.” But as Walton noted in the sentencing yesterday, there is no evidence that Fitzgerald acted improperly. “Your lies blocked an extremely serious investigation, and as result you will indeed go to prison,” he told Libby.

ETHICS — FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY ADMITS TO POLITICIZING JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Yesterday, former U.S. attorney Bradley Schlozman, who emerged as a central figure in the U.S. attorney scandal due to his contribution to the politicization of the Department of Justice, testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and “defended his decision to bring a controversial indictment before last year’s elections.” In a testy exchange with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Schlozman inadvertently admitted that he thought minority-advocacy groups such as MALDEF and NAPAB were the “liberal” counterparts to right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. That admittance suggests that his decision to bring voter fraud charges in Missouri against ACORN, another group which advocates for minority voter protection, prior to a hotly contested Senate election, was an attempt to tilt the election. Schlozman also attempted to rig elections in Minnesota, killing an investigation into Native American voter suppression, although he claimed he could not remember such an incident. Schlozman’s politicization also pervaded his hiring practices in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. During questioning by Schumer, Schlozman testified that he “boasted about the number of Republicans he had recruited for the [Civil Rights] division” and admitted to telling some applicants to remove Republican credentials from their resumes. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lambasted Schlozman for this politicization, scolding him for purportedly reading the U.S. attorney’s manual, but using it “as a doorstop” throughout his tenure in the Department.

HUMAN RIGHTS — GUANTANAMO CHILD SOLDIER RULING RENEWS HABEAS CORPUS DEBATE: A day after a military judge dismissed charges against a “Canadian who was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan” and who has been described as “the first child fighter in decades to face war-crimes charges,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expressed willingness to bring legislation to the floor that would “restore the right of those held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their detentions.” The then-conservative Congress “eliminated that right last year while redesigning the military tribunals after the Supreme Court struck down the [Bush administration’s] first plan.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) criticized the administration’s tribunal system — outlined in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) — as “rushed” and “arbitrary,” remarking that “even conservative courts say no to” their approach. Likewise, the New York Times called the MCA a “national disgrace” and called on Congress not to allow the Bush administration to “tinker with the review tribunals so they produce the desired verdict.” In addition, Human Rights Watch noted that while the military tribunal system has taken nearly six years to “prosecute one person, the federal courts have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorism cases, including dozens of international terrorism cases.” Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who was “closely involved” with writing the MCA, argued that instead of rewriting laws “every time a federal district court judge or someone changes their view,” Congress should “give it some time.” The White House said only, “We certainly disagree with the ruling.”

THINK FAST

A bipartisan group of senators, including “several conservative Republicans,” introduced legislation Tuesday to use the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations “as the foundation for future U.S. policy in Iraq.” The bill aims to “begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat brigades by early 2008 if certain benchmarks are met.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has approved a proposal that would allow an independent outside panel to decide which ethics complaints merit investigation by the House ethics committee. “This is gigantic,” said Sarah Dufendach of the watchdog group Common Cause. “If they really do this, it will be a very serious step forward.”

The House oversight committee is expanding its investigation “into ties between jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House and have contacted several Abramoff associates recently about testifying to Congress.”

“The United States will refuse to agree to targets and timetables for cutting greenhouse gases” at G8 summit, President Bush’s science adviser reiterated yesterday. “At this point in time we are not prepared to adopt that proposal,” James Connaughton told reporters. 

Iraq and Afghanistan “have overstretched the U.S. foreign service, damaging its staffers’ morale and threatening its performance around the world,” diplomats’ advocates charge. They say the State Dept. needs 1,100 new foreign service officers “simply to restore the capabilities it had” when Condoleezza Rice took her post in 2005.

Yesterday, the House unanimously passed a resolution calling on China to “act consistently with the Olympic standard of preserving human dignity in Darfur, Sudan and around the world.” It urges China to “stop selling Sudan arms and suspend economic cooperation with Sudan until Sudan ‘stops its attacks on civilians’ in Darfur.”

“Oman and Iran girded for heavy flooding and winds today as the strongest cyclone ever recorded by scientists in the northwestern Arabian Sea began to hit coastlines that have little experience with such powerful storms.”

Ignoring a veto threat, a House spending committee yesterday approved a homeland security bill that includes “about $50 million more for customs and border protection than Bush sought and $2 billion more than his February request for security preparedness and disaster relief.”

And finally: Does David Hyde Pierce’s (best known as Niles on the television show “Frasier”) accent in the new Tony-nominated show “Curtains” sound familiar? Pierce said he based his “highly acclaimed Boston accent” on Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). “It sort of comes from almost an English accent — you lose your R’s and your A’s get a little bent,” said Pierce. Markey’s reaction? “He sounds like me, but I don’t know if that is good or bad.”

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GOOD NEWS

“International family planning groups cut off from aid because of their position on abortion could gain access to U.S.-donated contraceptives under legislation approved by a House panel Tuesday.”

STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: Legalizing gay marriage could boost New York City’s economy by as much as $142 million.

CALIFORNIA: “A measure to legalize marriage for gay couples easily passed the California Assembly” yesterday but will likely be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger (R).

CONNECTICUT: New Haven plans to issue ID cards to undocumented immigrants, allowing them to open bank accounts and utilize public services.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly falsley claims that The New York Times failed to cover the JFK terror plot on its front page.

FEMINISTING: Right-wing pundit Mike Adams claims “feminists murder innocent children in order to obtain sexual gratification.”

THE BLOTTER: The Department of Homeland Security is overflowing with political appointees.

TAKE BACK AMERICA: Organize your own speaking session at the 2007 Take Back America conference, June 18 to June 20.

DAILY GRILL

“We haven’t started the surge — the full surge — yet.”
— Gen. David Petraeus, 6/5/07

VERSUS

“We’re only about two months into the surge.”
— Petraeus, 4/25/07