DECEMBER 08, 2008
Voters in a solidly Democrat Louisiana district denied a corrupt congressman embroiled in a massive bribery scandal a tenth term by electing an unknown Republican to represent them in the U.S. House.
New Orleans citizens finally came to their senses and booted Representative William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson after electing him to a ninth term two years ago when the scandal first broke. This time, the mostly Democrat voters in the predominantly black district turned on their beloved congressman to elect a little-known Vietnamese attorney (Anh "Joseph" Cao) from the opposing party.
Jefferson had a huge political and demographic advantage but he also has an equally large indictment—for bribery, obstruction of justice, wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering—hanging over his head. His adoring constituents gave him a chance by reelecting him before charges were formally filed in 2006, but there’s something to be said about an inch-thick, 16-count federal indictment.
Now the lawmaker best known for stashing a $90,000 cash bribe in his freezer (thus the nickname “Dollar Bill”) will have more time to dedicate to his defense. Prosecutors say Jefferson accepted more than half a million dollars in bribes and demanded millions more in exchange for his influence as chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals on behalf of those who paid him.
After a lengthy federal investigation, Jefferson, an Ivy League graduate attorney, was captured on FBI surveillance video accepting a $100,000 cash bribe. He wrapped $90,000 of it in aluminum foil and stashed it in the freezer of his home. The marked bills were later recovered by federal authorities.
Federal courts have rejected several desperate defense tactics and ordered Jefferson to stand trial on the charges. First, Jefferson who is black, played the race card in asking a judge to move his corruption trial from the jurisdiction (Virginia) where he was caught taking the $100,000 bribe on video because there aren’t enough blacks for the jury pool.
Then he demanded the court to suppress incriminating testimony he made to the FBI because he was not advised by agents of his right to remain silent and right to speak to an attorney, even though he is himself an attorney and should have known not to speak to agents.
Before that Jefferson tried to get the charges dismissed by claiming that the bribery indictment unconstitutionally infringed on his privileges as a congressman because grand jury testimony given by his staffers violated the Constitution’s speech and debate clause that protects legislative activity from intervention by other branches of government.
Most recently, Jefferson argued that his misdeeds were technically influence peddling and not bribery as federal prosecutors have charged. Based on that theory, Jefferson asked the judge a few months ago to dismiss 15 of the 16 counts against him because federal bribery laws apply to a congressman only if a bribe is exchanged for official action like taking votes or sponsoring legislation.
Incredibly, Jefferson still enjoys wide support from many of his colleagues in Washington. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally ousted the indicted lawmaker from the influential Ways and Means Committee, she got a lot of heat from the Congressional Black Caucus.
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