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Congressman in bribery inquiry won’t resign

Democratic Rep. William Jefferson,  under investigation for bribery, said Monday he would not resign in the face of allegations that he was videotaped accepting $100,000 from an informant.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Louisiana congressman under investigation for bribery said Monday he would not resign in the face of allegations that he was videotaped accepting $100,000 from an informant.

Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who has not been charged, called an FBI search of his Capitol office “an outrageous intrusion,” telling reporters: “There are two sides to every story. There are certainly two sides to this story.”

House Speaker Dennis Hastert questioned whether the raid of the congressman’s office, believed the first in history, overstepped constitutional limitations on executive powers.

“Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years,” the Illinois Republican said in a statement.

The FBI revealed Sunday that Jefferson was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant, who agreed to have her conversations with the congressman taped. Agents later found the cash hidden in a freezer, according to court documents.

Asked if he took a bribe, Jefferson declined to answer. He also declined to talk about the videotape or other details alleged in an FBI affidavit presented to a judge as evidence for a warrant to search his office Saturday night and Sunday.

I expect to run for re-election’
Jefferson, an eight-term congressman who turned 59 in March, maintained his innocence and said he plans to continue voting in the House. “I expect to run for re-election, but that’s a matter that’s down the road,” he said.

He called the weekend search of his Capitol Hill office “an outrageous intrusion into separation of powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch, and no one has seen this in all the time of the life of the Congress.”

A historian with the Senate Historical Office said there is no record of any member’s congressional office being searched.

Bipartisan concern over search
Hastert said he has spoken with other House leaders about the search and expects “to seek a means to restore the delicate balance of power among the branches of government that the founders intended.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Justice Department investigations must follow “constitutional protections and historical precedent.” And the House Democratic whip, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said he had “grave concerns” about the search.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked about the Jefferson search at an unrelated news conference at the Justice Department, said he understands the concerns raised about FBI agents raiding a congressional office.

“I will admit that these were unusual steps that were taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances,” Gonzales said.

Affidavit spells it out
The search warrant affidavit spells out special procedures put in place to ensure the search did not infringe on privileged material. The procedures include use of a “filter team” of prosecutors and FBI agents unconnected to the investigation. They would review any seized items or documents and determine whether the documents are privileged and therefore immune from the search warrant.

If the status of a document is in doubt, the filter team will give the documents to a judge for a definitive ruling before giving them to case prosecutors, according to the affidavit.

The government says Jefferson received $100,000 in a leather briefcase last July 30 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Va. The money was delivered to Jefferson by a northern Virginia businesswoman who is cooperating with investigators. She was identified as Lori Mody by a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the woman’s name was kept secret in court documents.

The plan was for Jefferson to use the cash to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian official to ensure the success of a business deal in that country, the 100-page affidavit said.

All but $10,000 was recovered Aug. 3, when the FBI searched Jefferson’s home in Washington. The money was stuffed in his freezer, wrapped in $10,000 packs and concealed in food containers and aluminum foil.

Associates plead guilty
Jefferson has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, but two of his associates have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

In January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, saying Jefferson demanded money in exchange for help in brokering two African telecommunications deals.

Vernon Jackson, chief executive of iGate Inc., a Louisville, Ky., telecommunications firm, subsequently pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for the congressman’s help obtaining business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

The House Ethics Committee has opened an inquiry into the case.