The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson strategies may be incompatible
One defense Rep. William Jefferson has mounted to contest federal bribery charges against him might be undermining another defense he has raised. Jefferson contends he shouldn't be charged with public bribery because he never performed "official acts," such as voting or introducing legislation, to promote business ventures in Africa. He also has tried to get the bribery charges thrown out by saying the grand jury that indicted him in June heard details of his legislative activities in violation of the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause. But in a written ruling last week, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III pointed out the potential conflict between the two arguments. While noting that grand jurors heard about Jefferson's role in passing Africa trade legislation, he said it wasn't relevant because the government has not accused Jefferson of selling his vote or, what the congressman might call an "official act." Ellis has yet to render an opinion on Jefferson's interpretation of the bribery statute, but in last week's decision, he made his views on the "speech or debate" clause quite clear: "Put simply, the speech or debate clause is not a license to commit a crime."

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