JUNE 18, 2008
Vowing to vindicate his “good name,” the Louisiana congressman charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and caught with some of the cash in his freezer will run for reelection in November.
A years-long bribery scandal, 16-count federal indictment and FBI video of him accepting a hefty cash bribe have not deterred Democrat William Jefferson from seeking a 10th term in the House of Representatives. In fact, he evidently feels more confident than ever that his constituents will reelect him, saying that he will run on his record of "effective service” to the people of his district.
Jefferson easily won a ninth term in 2006, amid the serious bribery allegations though he had not been formally charged. His constituents didn’t seem to care then that Jefferson had been caught on FBI surveillance tape accepting a $100,000 cash bribe in northern Virginia and that agents subsequently raided the lawmaker’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.
The shameful discovery was the culmination of a lengthy federal investigation into how Jefferson used his influence on a powerful House Africa Caucus to illegally perform official acts for nearly a dozen companies in return for hefty bribes. A lot of key evidence has come from two of Jefferson’s associates who have struck plea bargains with prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation.
One is Brett Pfeffer, a former congressional aide who admitted soliciting bribes on Jefferson’s behalf and the other is a telecommunications executive (Vernon Jackson) who pleaded guilty to paying Jefferson about $1 million in exchange for the lawmaker’s assistance securing deals in various African nations.
House Democrats quickly stripped Jefferson of his position on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and he has spent a great deal of time offering the court bizarre defense arguments that seem to support his guilt and indicate desperateness on the part of his legal team.
First the Ivy League graduate legislator, who is black, played the race card and asked a judge to move his corruption trial from the jurisdiction (Virginia) where he was caught taking money on FBI video because there aren’t enough blacks for the jury pool.
A few weeks later, Jefferson asked a judge 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 himself is an attorney and should have known not to speak to agents.
Then Jefferson argued that most of the charges against him should be dismissed because damaging 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. In rejecting that argument, a federal judge ruled that Jefferson’s interpretation was overly broad and would prevent a member of Congress from ever being formally accused of a crime associated with their legislative work.
Just a few weeks ago, Jefferson presented the latest of his outrageous defense theories when he told the same judge that his misdeeds were technically influence peddling and not bribery as federal prosecutors have charged. The theory, according to Jefferson, is that federal bribery laws apply to a congressman only if a bribe is exchanged for official action like taking votes or sponsoring legislation. In rejecting that pathetic argument, the judge ruled that prosecutors can broadly interpret what constitutes an “official act” under the law.
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