FEBRUARY 29, 2008
The Louisiana congressman indicted for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to broker telecommunications deals in Africa made his initial connections during an African trip with then President Bill Clinton aboard Air Force One.
Representative William Jefferson was charged last year with bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice for abusing his position on a powerful House Africa Trade Caucus to illegally perform official acts for nearly a dozen companies in exchange for bribes.
A years-long federal investigation culminated with the FBI actually video taping the disgraced congressman accepting a $100,000 cash bribe in northern Virginia. Federal agents subsequently raided Jefferson’s Washington D.C. home and found $90,000 of the money in his freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and separated into $10,000 increments.
It turns out that Jefferson, a nine-term Democrat, established his crucial Africa connections during a 1998 trip to the country with President Clinton, other politicians, trade experts and foreign diplomats. The purpose of the trip was to promote legislation, eventually passed by Congress in 2000, to lower duties for sub-Saharan African goods.
Jefferson, a top advisor to Clinton on Africa policy, helped write the law (African Growth and Opportunity Act), which required participating African counties to adopt market-based economics, embrace democratic institutions and eliminate child labor and intellectual piracy.
The connections Clinton helped him establish were central to the massive corruption scheme Jefferson eventually masterminded. One media outlet’s analysis of Jefferson’s travel records, campaign donors and court papers paints the portrait of a shrewd opportunist who used the Clinton trip to capitalize on his power in Congress and experience in Africa. The veteran lawmaker made at least 13 trips to Africa after Clinton introduced him to the continent’s most powerful leaders.
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