The William Jefferson Chronicles

Ethics Panel to Investigate Congressman on Conduct

WASHINGTON, June 5 — Under pressure from Republicans, the House ethics committee announced Tuesday it would open an inquiry into the conduct of Representative William J. Jefferson, who relinquished his sole committee assignment in the wake of his indictment on corruption charges.

“Allegations such as these are extremely serious,” said Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Democrat of Ohio and chairwoman of the ethics panel. “It is always an issue of concern when a sitting elected official is charged with a crime.”

The committee sought to pre-empt Republican leaders, who later Tuesday forced a House vote on a resolution calling for the panel to investigate Mr. Jefferson’s conduct and recommend whether he should be expelled from the House. Democrats countered with a proposal that would require the ethics committee to automatically investigate any lawmaker under indictment or report within 30 days why it had chosen not to. Both proposals were approved overwhelmingly by the House.

The maneuvering came as both parties sought to score points on the issue of Congressional corruption that figured prominently in last year’s elections after a series of criminal cases involving Republican lawmakers and the jailing of two.

Mr. Jefferson, 60, was indicted Monday by a federal grand jury on 16 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. He is accused of hiding $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer and of using his former position on the Ways and Means Committee to push business ventures by companies from which he sought bribes.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Jefferson said he was resigning from the Small Business Committee “in the light of recent developments in a legal matter.”

“In doing so,” he said, “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.”

Democrats described the proposal by the Republicans as hypocrisy, noting that they had declined last year to seek the ouster of their own indicted former leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas. And former Representative Bob Ney of Ohio was allowed to remain in office after admitting misconduct that led to his incarceration.

“Chutzpah is a wonderful word,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader.

Republicans said the extent of the charges against Mr. Jefferson amounted to a different situation and said they were simply trying to hold Democrats accountable to their pledge of removing corruption from the 110th Congress.

“The speaker of the House said we were going to have a different standard in this Congress and we’re trying to establish a different standard with our members and we’re going to help her try to establish a different standard with her members,” said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the second-ranking Republican.

Several House Democrats called for Mr. Jefferson, a nine-term lawmaker, to resign from Congress. Democratic leaders had been planning to convene a steering committee meeting this week to remove him from his last remaining committee assignment. But he stepped down on his own accord on Tuesday.

“I have supported every ethics and lobbying reform measure that you and our Democratic majority have authored,” Mr. Jefferson said in his letter to Ms. Pelosi, “and I make this request for leave to support the letter and the spirit of your leadership in this area.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

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