Representative William J. Jefferson, the ninth term congressman from Louisiana’s Second Congressional District, was indicted on 16 counts of bribery and corruption-related charges following a two-year investigation after $90,000 was found in his freezer.
The charges leveled against Jefferson also included conspiracy, racketeering, money laundering and soliciting bribes from Black businessmen and at least one country in Africa.
The contents of a sealed 94-page indictment were revealed last Monday in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the documents, Jefferson used his office illegally for the enrichment of himself and his family, and was fully aware that his behavior went beyond the boundaries of governmental business. His lawyer, Robert Trout, in a prepared statement to the media said his client was innocent and that he intended to fight the charges all the way until he is vindicated.
Jefferson easily won re-election to his ninth term even though his constituents knew that he was under investigation by federal law enforcement officials. When the story first broke about the money in his icebox, there was an inkling about the propriety of the search and a constitutional breach of the separation of powers. In a lawsuit challenging the raid and subsequent search of his congressional offices, Jefferson has asked the courts to rule on the constitutionality of such an unprecedented action. That matter is still in the courts and has not yet been resolved. The timing of this indictment appears to be in total disregard for the outcome of the principle of the separation of powers.
If the courts rule favorably on Jefferson’s behalf, then the government’s case may go up in smoke or at best be weakened dramatically. Many congressional observers and the nation’s leading constitutional scholars see these events much more than just an alleged wrongdoing by Jefferson. The independence of each branch of government is fundamental, not only to the separation of powers, but also to the balance of power, and the checks-and-balances of the federal government. So there is more at stake here than Jefferson’s problems, notwithstanding his presumption of innocence and his trial before a jury of his peers, which are still far off in the future.
Back home in his district, Jefferson heretofore has led a scandal-free life and his constituents appear to be satisfied with his performance in Congress on their behalf. Others in Washington do not seem to be so inclined. Last year when it became public that he was being investigated - an apparent routine affair in the nation’s capital - he was arbitrarily stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, even though he had not yet been charged with a crime. Now the convenience of this indictment will almost assuredly add fuel to an already blazing bonfire of governmental distractions that keep representatives in Washington from representing their constituents.
In addition, Jefferson’s 2nd district is still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, which has not yet fully recovered or has even been fully or properly addressed. Former Louisiana State Senator Lambert Boissiere said, “Jefferson has been a very aggressive politically he has been able to get himself elected to Congress nine times. His political organization, which goes by the name the ‘Progressive Democrats,’ has helped to elect a number of elected officials, judges and Democratic Party officials so he’s had a strong reputation in this city (New Orleans). In his last election, his opponents had not been able to distinguish themselves above him, and he was the choice the people wanted to go with. It is unfortunate about the situation that he’s in now; it’s unfortunate for his family and unfortunate for the city.” Of course, the last part of Boissiere’s comments refer to the unfinished business of Hurricane Katrina.
Despite his legal troubles, Jefferson’s attorney said he would respond appropriately to the charges contained in the indictment but in the meantime, he is continuing to serve his constituents. California Congresswoman Diane Watson issued the following statement about her colleague stating, “The charges that have been filed against Mr. Jefferson are very serious. However, they are allegations. We must remember that in our society there is a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. We must allow the judicial process to run its course.”
Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis spoke to the “Los Angeles Sentinel” saying, “I guess we have been anticipating this indictment to come down and of course, all of us are concerned about how the citizenry review officials who are elected to public office. And all of us want the Congress to be viewed in the most positive light. At the same time, we have a system of jurisprudence and there is the notion that individuals are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and Mr. Jefferson has been indicted but he has not been convicted. I think the most we can do is look forward to a trial and see what our court system concludes.”
Congressman Jefferson is a lifelong resident of Louisiana; a graduate of Southern University, A & M College and Harvard Law School. He was only the second member of Congress to receive a Master of Laws degree from Georgetown University while serving in Congress. He serves on several Congressional Committees and is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He is married to Dr. Andrea Green-Jefferson and they have five daughters.
Though some of the other individuals, who were targets of the same investigations as Jefferson, have pleaded guilty and have agreed to cooperate with the federal authorities as part of their agreement, Jefferson has maintained his innocence. He has said, “I wish to say emphatically that in all of my actions that are here under scrutiny, that I have never intended to dishonor my office or you, the public, and I certainly did not sell my office.”