THE BLOG

Why Bill Jefferson Must Go

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Lane Hudson Writer, Blogger, Consultant and Activist in DC

**Update Below***

Yesterday, Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was indicted on sixteen counts of violating Federal law. The charges include solicitation, racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud, conspiracy, and violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For a long time, we thought this case was about $90,000 found in a freezer, which is bad enough. Now the FBI has detailed a complicated process that Jefferson allegedly developed that resulted in nearly $500,000 in payments in return for using his office and influence for those who were willing to pay for it.

Here's the beginning of why it's time for him to go from the CNN website:

The allegations against Jefferson emerged in the heat of the 2006 congressional election season, when Democrats were castigating House Republicans for tolerating what they called a "culture of corruption." After the raid on Jefferson's office, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi pushed Jefferson out of his seat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

But in February, Pelosi -- now speaker of the House -- agreed to place Jefferson on the Homeland Security Committee. The move drew criticism from Republicans, who accused Pelosi of backing away from promises to clean up Congress.

The argument has already been framed, that Democrats are no different from business as usual under Republican Rule. Let's not forget that Democrats were swept into a majority not only because of the Iraq War, but also largely by Americans who were tired of the corruption that existed throughout the Republican Party.

Nancy Pelosi assumed the Speakership with at least two of her members under investigation. One of them holds a Subcommittee Chairmanship. Jefferson still holds a seat on an important Committee. This doesn't send a message that Democrats are willing to clean up the ethical environment of Congress. Granted, this puts Nancy Pelosi in a difficult position. By disciplining Jefferson, she already received criticism by the Congressional Black Caucus. However, this is the price of leadership. It requires tough choices.

Jefferson leaving Congress is not only the best choice because it is right. Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and the Democratic Party as a whole must demand his resignation because it is important to the future of the Democratic Party itself.

Let us not forget the 1994 election. Republicans used ethics and corruption against the 40 year Democratic majority in the House and were easily swept into a majority. This issue always plays in cycles and it hurts both parties, usually the one in power.

Karl Rove conspired to consolidate conservative power in America through permanent war. This was designed to distract the American people from every other issue, including a gross lack of ethics. It was working until the American people woke up to the idea that being misled into war was a bad thing. It also helped that several Republicans resigned under ethical clouds. While Rove's plan might would work in theory, it never could have worked in actual practice. That created an opening that allowed Democrats into the majority once again.

Accordingly, this is the issue that can help Democrats maintain power for the long term. They must show that they are willing to make the tough decisions and choose ethics over maintaining the status quo. It's essential for the long term health of the Party.

This is the statement issued by Speaker Pelosi on her website:

The charges in the indictment against Congressman Jefferson are extremely serious. While Mr. Jefferson, just as any other citizen, must be considered innocent until proven guilty, if these charges are proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power.

As we have demonstrated in implementing tough ethics reforms and passing tough lobbying reforms already this year, Democrats are committed to upholding a high ethical standard and eliminating corruption and unethical behavior from the Congress.

Democrats can point to Ethics legislation that recently passed the House. But, it doesn't really change the way business works in Washington.

If Democrats are serious about ending ethical abuses in the Congress, they will start by calling for William Jefferson's resignation. Americans certainly must remain innocent until proven guilty. In reality, however, questions of ethics and fitness for office are much different than the legal semantics. Therefore "innocent until proven guilty" has no place in an ethics discussion, where the bar is much higher than the legal world.

If he won't resign, then the Congress must act to expel him from the House. While this is a serious act, it is required to begin the process of showing the Democratic Party as being willing to make the tough decisions that will restore public confidence in the Congress for the long term.

Don't let William Jefferson become our Tom Delay.

Update:
From Think Progress

A Democratic congressional aide tells ThinkProgress that Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) has informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by letter that he is "temporarily" stepping down from his only committee assignment, on the Small Business Committee, until his legal matter is resolved. It's unknown whether he was pressured to voluntarily give up his seat.

Yesterday, Jefferson was indicted on 16 charges, including racketeering, solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violating the foreign corrupt practices act, and conspiracy.

Jefferson, whose case includes FBI video tape of him allegedly accepting a cash bribe, $90,000 of which federal authorities was later found in a freezer in his home, is facing increasing pressure to give up his seat. Yesterday, Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) issued a statement calling on him to "consider resigning for the good of Congress and for the good of the nation."

Kudos to Congressman Kagan.