Sunday, June 18, 2006

Congressman William Jefferson (D-La) Purged From the Ways and Means Committee

Jefferson Loses Ways and Means Seat

By Shailagh Murray and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 17, 2006; A07

The House officially expelled Rep. William J. Jefferson from a prestigious committee, ending a tug of war between the embattled Louisiana Democrat and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that had become tinged with political and racial overtones.

Jefferson's ouster from the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, Medicare and Social Security, followed weeks of building tension between Pelosi and Jefferson and his Congressional Black Caucus allies.

The eight-term lawmaker is under federal investigation over his alleged role in African business dealings. Two former associates have pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson, and the FBI said it had videotaped him receiving $100,000 in cash to give to Nigeria's vice president. Agents later found $90,000 of that sum in a freezer in Jefferson's D.C. home.

Also yesterday, a federal judge hinted he may find that the May 20 FBI raid on Jefferson's Capitol Hill office was constitutional. Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have questioned whether the search was permitted under the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause protecting the official business of members of Congress.

At the conclusion of a 90-minute hearing in Washington, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who signed the search warrant last month, said he was not enthused by arguments made by lawyers for Jefferson and the House of Representatives. "The speech-or-debate clause is not a hide-and-conceal clause," Hogan said. The judge said he will issue a written ruling on Jefferson's motion demanding the Justice Department return the documents that the FBI removed in the raid.

The raid on Jefferson's office set off a political and legal maelstrom and prompted President Bush to order the seized materials sealed for 45 days to give the Justice Department time to work out a solution with lawyers for Jefferson and the House. Hogan subsequently sealed the materials until further notice.

The raid also brought more attention to a case that Pelosi and other senior Democrats deeply lament for its poor political timing. With its colorful narrative and serious criminal implications, the Jefferson imbroglio dilutes what the Democrats had hoped would become one of their more potent election-year arguments: that Republican leadership of Congress has created a "culture of corruption." The list of GOP transgressions includes the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham's guilty plea on bribery charges.

But Jefferson has not been indicted, and his committee ouster was decried by the lawmaker and his Black Caucus allies as a premature overreach. They noted that Pelosi had not taken similar action against Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a white member whose personal finances are under federal scrutiny and who continues to serve on the Appropriations Committee.

"I stand firm in my position that this move is unprecedented, unfair in process, and most importantly it unjustly punishes my constituents," Jefferson said after his fellow Democrats approved his committee ouster by nearly a 2 to 1 ratio Thursday night.

Pelosi responded that the allegations are too egregious for Democrats to wait. "This isn't about proof in the court of law; this is about an ethical standard," she said.

The Democratic debate over Jefferson also forced into the spotlight the tight-knit Black Caucus. The group initially remained mum about Jefferson's legal problems, but when Pelosi announced she would seek to push him off the Ways and Means panel, the 43-member caucus splintered into factions, between members who allied with Jefferson and Pelosi sympathizers who felt the political climate demanded a firm response.

As the House prepared to act yesterday, about 20 members of the Black Caucus gathered around Jefferson on the floor. The besieged congressman sat staring blankly ahead as his colleagues stood around him in a tight circle. But when the resolution was called up, none raised objections, and the measure was approved by unanimous consent.

The member who had offered the resolution was Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), a key negotiator as both a former Black Caucus chairman and a current senior member of the Pelosi leadership team.

Clyburn said new caucus guidelines would be written to take into account cases such as Jefferson's, and he noted wryly that the rulebook was so old that it took for granted that Democrats were the majority party, as they had been for 40 years, until 1994. "I believe in doing things in a cohesive, well-managed manner," Clyburn said, as opposed to responding arbitrarily "to everything that goes on in the media."

Jefferson refuses to step down

Says it would be discriminatory

By Fred Goldstein
Published Jun 16, 2006 11:33 PM

On May 20 the FBI carried out the first-ever raid on the office of a U.S. member of Congress, the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). The FBI leaked word of the raid on the office of the eight-term congressperson, the first Black representative elected to the House from Louisiana since the era of Black Reconstruction after the Civil War. The highly-publicized and unprecedented police-state measure was carried out in connection with a bribery sting operation in which the FBI alleges that Jefferson took funds to promote the interests of a small Kentucky technology firm seeking business in Nigeria and Ghana.

Shortly after the raid, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), House minority leader, asked Jefferson to step down from his position as a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Pelosi did this despite opposition by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to this racist move, which is a violation of precedent. Jefferson refused to step down, declaring his innocence, and basing his refusal on the fact that no charges have been brought against him and that his removal would violate Party rules and precedent.

Pelosi then called a meeting of the Democratic Party leadership steering committee, which voted against Jefferson and moved to refer the matter to the rank-and-file House membership of the party. Mel Watt, CBC member (D-NC) moved to have the vote postponed for five days and read a CBC statement denouncing the decision.

The CBC declared that Jefferson was entitled to “a presumption of innocence” and opposed measures “to force Rep. Jefferson to resign from Congress or to remove him involuntarily from his position on the Ways and Means Committee in the absence of precedents that have been historically applied…” (AP, June 9).

Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), a CBC member, added that if action is taken only against someone who “is a Black member of Con gress, then our community will legitimately ask, ‘What in the world are you doing?’”

Pelosi said that she wanted Jefferson removed in order to “uphold the highest ethical standards.” Corruption thrives everywhere in the capitalist establishment, from the White House on down. Yet instead of standing up to the racist singling out of a prominent African American legislator from New Orleans, Pelosi immediately jumped on the FBI/Republican bandwagon in order to save the Demo cratic Party strategy of “running against corruption” in 2006.

Meanwhile, Rep. Allan Mullohan (D-VA), was not asked by Pelosi or the Democratic Party leadership to step down from his position on the powerful House Committee, despite the fact that he is under suspicion for funneling millions of dollars through the appropriation process to foundations that he established and to non-profits run by his cousin (Washington Times, June 1).

There have been no FBI raids on Mollohan’s office. Pelosi asked him to resign from the Ethics Committee but not from the Appropriations Committee, which is the committee through which he is accused of enriching himself.

Below is the text of a letter written by William Jefferson to Nancy Pelosi responding to her request for him to resign his committee post.

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader
H-204, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Leader Pelosi:

I have received your letter of this date requesting my immediate resignation from the Ways and Means Committee. With respect, I decline to do so.

Through my committee position and since this federal investigation became public, I have secured over $20 billion in tax credits and federal funds for my district after Hurricane Katrina. I authored the GO ZONE Act, the Katrina Public Finance Act, and the Katrina Tax Relief Act, along with my colleague Jim McCrery, which all resulted in massive tax relief for families, seniors, government agencies and businesses in the hurricane-affected region. All of these matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee.

Additionally, my committee covers trade, which is important the Port of New Orleans. My work on the committee has been important to our port’s recovery after the storm.

None of the matters reported to be under scrutiny involve issues under jurisdiction of the Ways and Means committee. Therefore, such a request would be even more perplexing and unreasonable. If I agreed, it would unfairly punish the people of the 2nd district and I will not stand for that.

Further, such a request would be discriminatory, in as much as no other Member currently under federal investigation has been asked to step down from a substantive, legislative committee assignment. It would also be unprecedented, in as much as I have served with Members who have been indicted, tried and won their cases, and who were never asked to step aside from their committee assignments during those processes.

Therefore, I will not give up a committee assignment that is so vital to New Orleans at this crucial time for any uncertain political strategy.

William J. Jefferson
Member of Congress
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