The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson promises he has 'an honorable explanation'
He says he'll seek re-election this year
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
By Bill Walsh
and Bruce Alpert%%par%%Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, said Tuesday that there is "an honorable explanation" for the damaging scenario being painted by the federal government in the federal bribery probe targeting him, and he again denied breaking any laws.

Jefferson declined to discuss specifics of the 15-month investigation that has yielded two guilty pleas amid allegations that the congressman accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Jefferson has not been charged and would not speculate on whether he thought an indictment was coming from the northern Virginia grand jury investigating him.

In a wide-ranging interview late Tuesday in his congressional office, the site last month of an unprecedented FBI search, Jefferson said he has no intention of stepping down and reiterated his plan to seek a ninth term in November.

"When all is said and done, you will see that there is an honorable explanation for everything you are reading about," Jefferson said, remaining relaxed throughout the interview, his feet slung up on a coffee table. "I believe an impartial forum can reach and will reach that same conclusion."

Cold cash

In court records, the government has placed Jefferson at the center of a brazen international bribery scheme. Investigators say Jefferson and his family demanded and received more than $400,000 in bribes, shares of stock in a struggling telecommunications firm and promises of a cut of future business in Nigeria.

The FBI says it videotaped Jefferson receiving a briefcase with $100,000 cash that, according to wire-tapped conversations, was meant to pay off Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was to seal the telecom deal in his country. Most of the money was later retrieved from Jefferson's freezer, the agency says.

"I did not intend and do not believe I committed any crimes," said Jefferson, who graduated from Harvard Law School and received an advanced law degree from Georgetown University.

An attorney for Abubakar has said the vice president is cooperating with the investigation and denies any wrongdoing.

Pressing issue for party

Jefferson's comments came as leaders in his party were meeting to discuss whether to remove him from the influential House Ways and Means Committee.

During a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Steering Committee, the issue of whether Jefferson should be removed from the tax-writing committee was discussed, but no decision was reached.

As she left the meeting, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said one idea under discussion was to have Jefferson come before the Democratic conference to discuss the accusations against him.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has called on Jefferson to give up his seat on Ways and Means, said she had nothing to say on the matter Tuesday night. Pelosi said she had no plans to bring the matter before the Democratic caucus at a meeting scheduled for today, but that any member is free to raise any issue.

The Jefferson probe has put Democrats in an awkward position since they are mounting a political attack on what they have called the Republican "culture of corruption" ahead of this fall's elections. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said Democrats don't want to be seen as condoning wrongdoing.

Earlier Tuesday, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland again called for Jefferson's ouster from the committee.

"He sits on a tax-writing committee, and he had $90,000 found in his freezer," Hoyer told reporters. "I think he's got a tax problem, if nothing else."

Jefferson said removing him from Ways and Means would only hurt his New Orleans district, which continues to struggle to recover from last year's hurricanes.

"No one has ever penalized people in someone's district to pursue a political agenda," Jefferson said. "The strategy she (Pelosi) is taking is stronger than the Republicans."

White House defends search

The Bush administration, meanwhile, continued to defend the May 20-21 FBI search of Jefferson's suite in the Rayburn House Office Building. After 18 hours, agents carted off two boxes and copied computer hard drives used by the congressman and office staffers.

The ensuing backlash from House leaders compelled President Bush to seal the records for 45 days.

"I understand this was an unusual step that was taken, but it was an unusual step taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.

Jefferson said he was bearing up well under the pressure of the federal investigation. He said he is the same weight, 180 pounds, he has been for years. He joked frequently as he talked about his childhood and early political career.

Asked how he was holding up, Jefferson quoted a passage he said his father frequently cited from the Book of Job: 'Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.'

"What he meant was that every day you've got something you've got to deal with, and you've got to keep going," Jefferson said. "Every day is a new day, and I'm trying to live in the present."

As he made his way from his office to the House for an evening vote, he was greeted warmly by several of his colleagues.

After the vote, he asked an aide about a batting cage he had heard about nearby. He said he was interested in taking some swings after another long day.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bill Walsh can be reached at or (202) 383-7817. Bruce Alpert can be reached at or (202) 383-7861.

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