|Jefferson hires crisis-seasoned PR aide|
Congressman target in corruption probe
Friday, July 07, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, the target of a high-profile public corruption probe, has hired a crisis communications consultant whose past clients have included Monica Lewinsky and the family of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy.
Judy Smith, a lawyer who did media relations for former President Bush, will be speaking for Jefferson's legal team, headed by Washington lawyer Robert Trout, said Melanie Roussell, the spokeswoman for his congressional office. Roussell said she will continue to be the spokeswoman for Jefferson's congressional activities.
Jefferson, an eight-term Democrat, is listed in FBI documents as the major target of a nearly 16-month federal corruption probe that has produced guilty pleas by a former Jefferson aide and the CEO of a Kentucky company. The CEO, Vernon Jackson, said in his plea documents that he had paid more than $400,000 to a company run by Jefferson's family in return for Jefferson's help landing telecommunications contracts in Nigeria and Ghana.
Among the public relations challenges facing Smith, founder and partner with the Washington communications firm Impact Strategies, are FBI statements that agents videotaped Jefferson taking a briefcase with $100,000 in $100 bills from a cooperating witness. The FBI said all but $10,000 of the money was later found in the freezer of his Washington home, a revelation that made Jefferson the target of "cold cash" jokes by late-night television comics.
Smith declined to say exactly what she will be doing for Jefferson. But an aide to Jefferson said the congressman recognizes that he needs to do a better job responding to the allegations against him and that Smith has developed a reputation for aggressively working her media contacts to get the "other side of the story" for her previous clients.
Terms of Smith's contract - and who is paying - were not revealed. Jefferson has a legal defense fund that has raised $119,000.
Jefferson has not been charged in the federal probe, and insists he has an honorable explanation for the allegations against him. He predicts he will be cleared of all wrongdoing.
As an attorney, Smith's conversations with Jefferson will be considered off-limits to prosecutors under lawyer-client privilege.
Smith is perhaps best known for leading Lewinsky, the former White House intern who admitted having a sexual relationship with former President Clinton, past hordes of reporters as she testified before a grand jury convened by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
She also advised relatives of Chandra Levy, 21, who had confided to an aunt that she had been having an affair with then California Rep. Gary Condit, as they pressed for an aggressive investigation into her killing. She was first reported missing in April 2001 and her body wasn't found until a year later. No one has been charged with her killing.
In 1991, as part of former President Bush's media team, she helped then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas deal with allegations of sexual harassment by his former assistant Anita Hill. And Smith has advised the Saudi Arabian government on its response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
. . . . . . .
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or at (202) 383-7861.