Republicans moved Tuesday to seek Rep. William J. Jefferson’s expulsion from the House, a day after the Louisiana Democrat was indicted on charges of receiving more than $500,000 in bribes.
Jefferson, meanwhile, relinquished his seat on the House Small Business Committee before members of his own party could vote to kick him off the panel.
In a two-paragraph letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jefferson, 60, said he was taking the step “in the light of recent developments in a legal matter.”
Republicans, citing Pelosi’s election-season promise to run the most ethical House in history, sought Jefferson’s expulsion from the chamber, possibly before he comes to trial on the bribery charges.
Republican Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio was pushing for a vote later Tuesday on a resolution to bar Jefferson from serving on any House committee and to direct the ethics committee to decide by July 11 whether the allegations in the indictment merit his expulsion, according to a partial draft of the document obtained by The Associated Press.
The final draft may not include a specific deadline by which the ethics committee must rule, according to a Republican leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the resolution had not been finalized.
It’s unusual for the House in a resolution to specifically instruct the ethics committee to report whether a member’s expulsion is warranted. Usually such resolutions leave it to the committee to recommend appropriate sanctions after its investigation.
The unusual directive produced a rare retort from the chairwoman of the House ethics committee.
“It is inappropriate for any other member to impose on these proceedings,” Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the Standards of Official Conduct committee, said in a statement that did not mention Boehner by name. “I refuse to allow these proceedings to be politicized by House Republican leadership.”
Ethics inquiry likely
An ethics committee probe seemed certain. Pelosi, D-Calif., later Tuesday was expected to name 10 House Democrats to a pool from which the House ethics committee can pick if it decides to appoint a special subcommittee to investigate the charges against Jefferson, a Democratic leadership aide said. The aide demanded anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made public.
A grand jury in Alexandria, Va., indicted Jefferson on Monday on 16 counts connected to a bribery investigation that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. The charges include racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years.
The indictment said Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and sought millions more in separate schemes to enrich himself by using his office to broker business deals in Africa. The charges came almost two years after investigators raided Jefferson’s home in Washington and found $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer.
Jefferson’s lawyer has declared his client innocent.
Jefferson writes Pelosi
In his letter Tuesday to Pelosi, Jefferson said his resignation from the Small Business Committee was in the spirit of her leadership on ethics issues.
“In doing so, I, of course, express no admission of guilt or culpability in that or any other matter that may be pending in any court or before the House of Representatives,” Jefferson added. “I have supported every ethics and lobbying reform measure that you and our Democratic Majority have authored.”
After the FBI had found $90,000 in cash in Jefferson’s freezer and alleged that stash was bribe money nearly two years ago, Pelosi succeeded in stripping Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee — over Jefferson’s objection.
The congressman, who represents part of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, was then re-elected in November to a ninth term in the House. Opening the 110th Congress as House Speaker this year, Pelosi granted him the seat on the Small Business Committee.