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. 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.” In principle, the forced expulsion of Jefferson before he is actually found guilty of a crime would be hasty and unfair. However, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) said yesterday, “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 his constituents, Congressman Jefferson should consider resigning for the good of Congress and for the good of the nation and, even more importantly, for the good of his Katrina-ravaged constituents. His New Orleans district needs strong leadership now more than ever — leadership he will not be in position to provide.
- The second district of Louisiana desperately needs effective representation in Congress. 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. “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 Loyloa University. He added, “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 Louisianans 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.”
- The charges leveled against Rep. Jefferson are serious and cast a shadow on his service in Congress. 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.” The evidence against Jefferson appears to be 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 August 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.”