Monday, June 04, 2007

Jefferson indicted -- finally

I was getting tired of waiting for this.

Louisiana congressman William Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and sought millions more in nearly a dozen separate schemes to enrich himself by using his office to broker business deals in Africa, according to a federal indictment Monday.

The charges came almost two years after investigators raided Jefferson's home in Washington and found $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer.

The indictment lists 16 counts, including racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years.

At least now we know why an indictment took so long: the case was complicated and extensive, with front companies, international contacts and the like.

I have to point out that charges do not equal guilt, and Jefferson vehemently maintains his innocence. But IMO the evidence against him is pretty overwhelming. Not to mention the two associates that have already pleaded guilty to handling bribes -- and fingered Jefferson in the process.

Now that he's actually been indicted, Democrats can punish him more completely. After the FBI raids he lost his seat on the powerful Ways and Means committee; now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to move quickly to take away his one remaining committee seat, on the Small Business Committee. At that point he would essentially be powerless and irrelevant. If and when he is convicted, he would almost certainly be expelled from Congress.

Repellently gleeful noises from certain quarters aside, there is probably nobody happier than Congressional Democrats that indictments have finally surfaced. For months they were saddled with Jefferson's "we all know he's guilty" presence, while being unable to do anything about it. But now they can actually do something to say "we don't condone this."

That said, I'm very interested to see what the Congressional Black Caucus -- the group that gave Jefferson a standing ovation after he was re-elected -- will say. They'll probably just raise the "innocent until proven guilty" trope to avoid either supporting or condemning him. But it's something of a sad commentary that I'm not confident of that.

Finally, let's cross into partisanland and examine the ridiculous standards writers like Mark at Red State think should be applied here.

It’s early in the life of this latest political scandal, but thus far, the silence from Capitol Hill has been deafening.

Um, no on all counts. This isn't the "latest political scandal"; it's a year old. And what silence is he talking about? Pelosi immediately called a press conference to denounce the behavior described in the indictments.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boldly promised to run the “most open and ethical Congress” in the nation’s history.

I think what really bugs partisan Republicans is that even if Pelosi falls short of that standard, she'll still do better than the most recent Republican-led Congress.

The numbers aren’t in yet, but if a Congress can be judged on the length of time it takes from its installation to the first indictment of a member of the controlling party, than this Congress must have set a new record.

More partisan irrelevance; "length of time from installation to first indictment" is a stupid standard to apply, especially for a scandal that is a year old.

Mark goes on to make some good points about the sluggish operation of the Ethics Committee. But then he launches this whopper.

Pelosi has had her head firmly planted in the sand over Jefferson from the very beginning of the investigation. He was allowed to stand for re-election in November despite being under Federal investigation. He was allowed to keep his seat on the powerful tax law writing House Ways and Means committee in the last Congress, despite being under investigation for accepting bribes. And he was seated by this Congress in January, despite the ongoing investigation.

Let's just list the fatuous nonsense and outright falsehoods.

1. Apparently Pelosi is supposed to decide who can run for office and who can't.

2. Jefferson lost his seat on Ways and Means back in June 2006.

3. The House apparently was supposed to prevent the democratically elected Jefferson from being seated, even though he had not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Note that the standard being applied here is that merely being suspected of wrongdoing should be enough to get you expelled from Congress.

Let's be clear: I think Jefferson is guilty as hell. But we do have this legal thing called "innocent until proven guilty." Further, while the House has the right to decide who it will seat and who it won't, there should be a very high standard for nullifying the will of the voters.

Historically, that has meant resignation from leadership and important positions upon investigation, suspension of nearly all privileges upon indictment and resignation (or expulsion) upon conviction.

And indeed, that's exactly how it played out in the cases of Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney, Republicans who resigned soon after cutting plea deals with prosecutors.

Ney, for instance, resigned from the House Administration Committee after he became a target of an investigation related to Jack Abramoff. But he stood for re-election and won the primary race in May, only withdrawing from the general election in August after it became clear he might lose. In September he said he would plead guilty to federal charges, something he actually did in mid-October. But he didn't actually resign until Nov. 3.

According to Red State's brain-dead standard, Republicans should have kicked Ney out of Congress at the beginning of 2006. Instead they let him remain for 11 months more.

I agree that the Ethics Committee should get its butt in gear and start justifying its existence. But beyond that, the thing to recognize and accept is that these sorts of cases take time and follow a predictable arc. Jefferson will eventually get what's coming to him. And while it would be satisfying for the hand of justice to take him down tomorrow, justice is supposed to be both swift and sure. And "sure" takes time if you care at all about individual rights and respecting the will of the people.

Investigation, indictment, trial, sentencing. We've reached the second step, with the third step just around the corner. Assuming the Feds have a solid case -- and I think they do -- step four isn't too far off.

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Blogger Not Your Mama said...

I think what really bothers them is that Jefferson finally getting busted DOESN'T bother us. I only wish they could have gotten him sooner.

6/05/2007 3:17 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I think the problem is that a certain segment of right-wingers are still stung by the whole "culture of corruption" charges leveled against Congressional Republicans, and desperately want to level the same charges against Democrats. Thus they attempt to attribute wider significance to the Jefferson case.

The difference, of course, is that the "culture of corruption" label referred to *systemic* corruption set up and abetted by Republican leadership.

Jefferson is a nonsystemic case of individual corruption. He's more properly compared to Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- a comparison in which he comes off quite badly. Cunningham, whatever his other failings, was a far classier act.

6/05/2007 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Explain exactly how the Republican cases were "systematic" and the Democrats cases of wrongdoing are not??? Are you claiming the Republicans who did wrong had instructions from the top to do so?

BTW, it is the Republicans who have a rule in place than anyone indicted MUST step down from any leadership roles. Dems do NOT have such a formal rule in place.


6/05/2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Explain exactly how the Republican cases were "systematic" and the Democrats cases of wrongdoing are not??? Are you claiming the Republicans who did wrong had instructions from the top to do so?

I'm saying Abramoff was a product of the system set up by DeLay et al. They created a corrupt system to deliver vast amounts of money, and then expressed surprise when people were corrupted by it. Throw in the leader-abetted gorging on earmarks and the like, and yes, you have a "systemic" corruption -- unlike the individual corruption of Jefferson and Cunningham.

BTW, it is the Republicans who have a rule in place than anyone indicted MUST step down from any leadership roles. Dems do NOT have such a formal rule in place.

A rule they tried to weaken when Tom DeLay was indicted.... but good for them.

BTW, I cannot find a link to the Democratic Caucus rules. Do you have something to support your claim about them?

6/05/2007 1:23 PM  

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