Ethics: Jefferson Should Resign
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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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.
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