Congressman Bill Jefferson's sad and protracted fall from grace has been entirely of his own making, and likely will continue to be so. When federal agents raided his homes in New Orleans and Washington last August, they found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer. That was just the beginning.
During one raid, an agent saw him trying to slide papers inside a pouch. When asked what the papers were, he lied (according to an affidavit from the agent) and said it was merely a copy of the search warrant. When pressed to show the papers, one of them turned out to be a fax from someone whose communications were among the objects of the search.
According to the feds, the congressman also has been videotaped receiving $100,000 from Lori Mody, a Virginia businesswoman he allegedly was shaking down in exchange for help landing a Nigerian telecommunications franchise. The money -- all marked $100 bills -- was delivered to Jefferson in a briefcase after he told Mody (who was wearing a wire for the FBI) that he needed it to bribe the vice president of Nigeria. He later told Mody that the money had been delivered. That, too, turned out to be a lie. Ninety-thousand dollars of it was retrieved from the freezer of his Washington, D.C., home. The briefcase was found in his New Orleans home during a contemporaneous FBI raid.
It doesn't end there.
The congressman, whom the late Mayor Dutch Morial years ago dubbed "Dollar Bill" for his alleged avarice, also is accused in federal affidavits of squeezing more than $400,000 in payments and millions of shares of stock out of iGate Inc., a Kentucky tech firm. The money allegedly went to a business controlled by Jefferson's family in exchange for help promoting the company's technology in Africa.
The feds also believe he leveraged a 30 percent share of Mody's Nigerian company, which was set up to run the African telecommunications franchise, and funneled it to a company he set up for his daughters.
Such a loving father! (See my column of May 10, 2005 -- "Father of the Year" -- for more examples of Dollar Bill's paternal devotion.)
So far, two of Jefferson's associates have pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme and have agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. Interestingly, this investigation is based in northern Virginia. There will be no sympathetic Jefferson voters on his jury if he is indicted and goes to trial.
Jefferson avers that there is an "honorable explanation" for all this, although, on advice of legal counsel, he is keeping that explanation under wraps.
Meanwhile, his Democratic colleagues in the House aren't buying his explanation. The party leadership wants him off the powerful House Ways and Means Committee on which Jefferson has been a key -- and effective -- player in Louisiana's recovery efforts. But how effective can he continue to be if the leaders of his own party want him gone -- particularly now, as they hope to make "corruption" their battle cry against the equally sordid GOP in the fall mid-term elections?
He has refused entreaties from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to relinquish his committee seat temporarily, pending the outcome of the probe. The Democrats clearly have the votes on their own steering committee to yank him, but that will surely lead to a racial bloodbath as members of the Congressional Black Caucus have rallied to his defense.
All of which has to please the sleazoids who run the GOP. They would like nothing better than to see Jefferson hang in there as long as possible -- certainly until November -- to give themselves cover on the "corruption issue."
A key Democratic vote on removing Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee is expected this week. If he's bumped, he would do well to throw in the towel, lest he drag his family and his party down with him.
Politically, his removal from the committee would be a death warrant. How many warrants must be served on him before he realizes the game is over?
- Two of Bill Jefferson's associates have pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme and have agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.