Wednesday, March 28, 2007

William Jefferson

William Jefferson, as you may or may not recall, is a Democrat and the US Representative for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District. He also was videotaped by the FBI in 2005 receiving money as part of a bribery and fraud case. The money was subsequently found in Jefferson's home stuffed in a freezer. He also had his Congressional offices searched by the FBI, setting off a Constitutional debate about the separation of powers. Two of his associates have pleaded guilty.

Despite being pretty much nailed, Jefferson refused to step down. He then managed to keep his seat in November in a runoff election. As of now, the FBI has still not charged Jefferson with a crime.

Due to the charges swirling around him, Jefferson was stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways & Means Committee in 2006. According to The Hill, Jefferson was subsequently appointed to the House Homeland Security Committee, but has not been able to take his seat, as Republicans threatened to force an embarrassing vote on Jefferson's appointment.

It's a sticky wicket, to be sure. It would have been best if Jefferson had stepped down before the election. But now, what is the Democratic leadership to do? Jefferson hasn't actually been indicted of a crime, unlike Tom DeLay when the Republicans kept him in a leadership position in violation of their own ethics rules. So, I can see the argument being made by some Democrats that barring Jefferson from Committees when he hasn't even been indicted of a crime sets a bad precedent. It's far from impossible, given the USA (US Attorney) scandal, to imagine Rove or other Republican political operatives trumping up alleged crimes and investigations just in order to force the Democrats to strip Congress persons of Committee assignments.

But, on the other hand, it's pretty damn clear Jefferson did it. Certainly, there are questions why, given the evidence they have in hand, the FBI hasn't indicted him yet. One might begin to suspect it's political, that they're holding off so that Jefferson can continue to be an embarrassment to the Democrats. But still, given the Democratic emphasis on being more ethical than the Republicans, whether the Justice Department is playing (more) politics probably isn't that important.

In the end, though, the fact is that I don't want a corrupt politician sitting in the House at all, let alone on the Ways & Means or the Homeland Security Committees. Even though Jefferson hasn't been indicted yet, there is no innocent until proven guilty right for sitting on House Committees. If there were some reason to think Jefferson was the victim of Rove's dirty tricks, then maybe it would be different, but there just isn't enough reason to think so.

I think it is best for Congressional Democrats and the more important goal of trying to right this sinking ship of state that Jefferson not be given any positions of responsibility while he is under a cloud, or until it becomes clear the FBI is not going to indict him. It might be unfair to Jefferson, but the fact is that what is important here is not how this affects Jefferson, but how it could affect the nation, and that's just how it has to be.


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