The legal woes of Rep. William Jefferson touched off a partisan war of ethics yesterday, as House Republicans hoped to score points on the issue following Jefferson's indictment Monday on 16 counts of bribery. He stands accused of accepting more than $500,000 in bribes.
Democrats moved to remove him from his post on the House Small Business Committee, but Jefferson beat them to the punch, submitting his resignation in a letter which included "no admission of guilt or culpability" in the matter. Jefferson had already been removed from his Ways and Means Committee seat by the Speaker Pelosi following the FBI raid which found $90,000 stashed in his freezer two years ago.
In short order, the House last night approved a Democratic motion that would make an ethics investigation automatic upon the indictment of any House member and then approved a Republican motion that could lead to Jefferson's expulsion.
The GOP resolution, offered by minority leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, referred Jefferson's case to the ethics committee, demanding that the panel report back on whether his expulsion is merited. The Democratic rule change, introduced by majority leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, would give the ethics committee 30 days after an indictment to initiate an investigation or explain why it declined.
Seeing the "Culture of Corruption" Republicans move quickly against the Democrats on the issue of ethics isn't surprising. They're still stinging from the Abramoff and DeLay scandals which contributed to their loss of control in the House and Senate in the 2006 election. DeLay attained leadership in the House by shaking down lobbyists and then using the money to buy the votes of House Republicans. Lobbyist Abramoff -- he just plain bought people.
Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Democrat of Ohio and chairwoman of the ethics committee, announced that her panel would reconvene an investigative subcommittee assembled last year to probe allegations against Jefferson.
Pressure mounted on Jefferson -- in Washington and in his New Orleans district -- to resign. The New Orleans Times-Picayune said he has "become a liability for his district and Louisiana."
The reaction in the African-American community was more mixed. Beverly McKenna, publisher and editor of the Tribune, the city's black newspaper, said she woke up yesterday and decided not to editorialize about the indictment. "This whole situation is so painful for me," she said. "The Jeffersons are good friends of mine."
For Republicans, Jefferson's indictment on 16 counts of corruption, racketeering, and bribery marked an opportunity to shift attention from their own ethics issues, which have nearly half a dozen GOP lawmakers under federal investigation and forced three members to resign.
Jefferson looks guilty as sin. Seeing the pack of Republican sinners up-in-arms promises to be an amusing sidebar as this story unfolds.
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