WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) entered a not guilty plea in Federal Court June 8, to an inch-thick, 16-count bribery, racketeering, and money-laundering indictment.
“I am absolutely innocent of the charges that have been leveled against me and I’m going to fight my heart out to clear my name,” Mr. Jefferson said in a prepared statement after his arraignment on the 16 criminal charges.
“They can attempt to break one, psychologically, and financially… No matter what, the truth will always come to light…this is not who we are. This is not who I am. This is not what I have done.” said Mr. Jefferson, with his wife Andrea Green-Jefferson at his side.
Mr. Jefferson is accused of offering and accepting a number of bribes to help businesses in this country and in West Africa. The case has sharp racial and political overtones, and has been under investigation for more than two years.
Investigators made national headlines twice during their probe, when FBI agents searching his Louisiana home found $90,000 cash in his freezer; and again when agents raided his office on Capitol Hill. It was the first time executive-branch officers had ever served a warrant to raid a legislator’s office, raising delicate Constitutional “separation of powers” issues.
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members defended their colleague’s presumption of innocence. “The Constitution entitles every citizen to be presumed innocent until a court of law decides otherwise. We just have to leave it to the courts,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), a member of the Judiciary Committee told The Final Call.
CBC Chair Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) offered support. “While the charges against Congressman William Jefferson are gravely serious and warrant thorough deliberation, the law of the land entitles every citizen the presumption of innocence until the court of law deems otherwise.” Rep. Kilpatrick said in a statement. “Therefore, we trust the merits of the case against Congressman Jefferson will be examined in a court of law instead of the chambers of public opinion. We stand by our members until proven guilty in a court of law.”
Republicans had sought to politicize the matter and to embarrass the House’s Democratic leadership, many of whose members are Black. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sought to bring the matter to a floor debate, to investigate and to possibly expel Mr. Jefferson.
House Ethics Committee Chairman and CBC member Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) announced that her committee was re-opening an investigation into Mr. Jefferson’s conduct, for possible sanctions from the House, independent of the outcome of the criminal case.
“It is inappropriate for any other member to impose on these proceedings,” Ms. Tubbs Jones, a former Cleveland Judge, said during the debate. “As a committee, we will fulfill our responsibility to the House of Representatives. I refuse to allow these proceedings to be politicized by the House Republican leadership.”
House Majority Whip and CBC member James Clyburn (D-S.C.) offered support. “The allegations leveled against Mr. Jefferson are serious, and should not be treated lightly,” Mr. Clyburn said in a statement. “But they are allegations and in our system must not be treated as guilt. We must allow the judicial process to run its course, after which there will be plenty of time to express our political will.”
Mr. Jefferson steadfastly maintains his innocence. “Suffice it to say that the alleged facts in the indictment were contrived merely as part of a sting and all of the allegations are misleading, and all the allegations are untrue,” Mr. Jefferson told reporters outside the courtroom, according to published reports.
“This case involves purely private business activities and not official acts by me. Did I bribe a foreign official? Absolutely not. The $90,000 was the FBI’s money. The FBI gave it to me as part of their plan that I would five it to the Nigerian vice president. But I did not do that,” said Mr. Jefferson.