|Pelosi says Jefferson treated fairly during investigation|
By DAVID ESPO
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she had been "more than fair" with embattled Rep. William Jefferson, rejecting claims to the contrary by black lawmakers and predicting the party rank and file would vote to strip him of his committee seat.
"Mr. Jefferson will be dealt with," she said of the Louisiana lawmaker, ensnared in a federal corruption investigation.
Democrats met in early evening to consider his fate, at a time they are attempting to make alleged Republican corruption a central theme in their campaign for control of the House.
Jefferson spoke at the meeting, then emerged to tell reporters he had asked his fellow Democrats "to put themselves in my shoes."
"The punishment is unauthorized. It also is unnecessary," he said, saying there was nothing in the rules or in precedent for the sanction.
He conceded he was facing "serious allegations."
Asked whether he thought race was a factor, Jefferson, who is black, said, "It's never happened before and it does raise issues."
Jefferson maintains his innocence and has not been indicted. But the FBI says he stashed $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer, and two men have pleaded guilty in the probe.
Pelosi asked Jefferson last month to give up his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee voluntarily, pending completion of the investigation.
When he refused, she resolved to force him off, saying that Democrats would set the bar as high as possible for conduct by a lawmaker.
"This is about a higher ethical standard, and you know when it isn't being met," she told reporters at her weekly news conference.
Most Democrats support Pelosi's action, including some in the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus, and there was little doubt about the vote.
Even so, the black caucus issued a statement last week invoking the Constitution's guarantee of "the presumption of innocence" and opposed the effort to force him off the committee.
Some black Democrats went further, warning that the party risked alienating loyal voters if it required Jefferson to surrender his committee seat until his legal situation is clarified.
Pelosi granted several interviews last week to reporters from black newspapers and radio stations in an attempt to rebut her critics.
Asked about Jefferson at her news conference, she said, "He is being afforded his due process, more than his due process, and my caucus knows that. We have a higher ethical standard. This is not a court of law," she said.
She said she had been "more than fair" in terms of opposing an FBI raid on his congressional office, supporting his (court) brief to get his records back, giving him time."
"This would have been done in an instant if I were not trying to be more than fair with him."
The two men who have been found guilty include a former aide to the congressman and the head of a telecommunications company.
Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, was sentenced to eight years in prison last month for conspiring to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the bribery of a public official.
Vernon Jackson, 53, chief executive of iGate Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based telecommunications company, pleaded guilty May 3 to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to Jefferson.
Additionally, the FBI claims that it videotaped the Louisiana Democrat last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents later found $90,000 of the funds stashed in a freezer in his home.
FBI agents carried out a weekend search of Jefferson's congressional office in May, triggering criticism from congressional leaders who claimed agents had encroached on Congress' constitutional powers.
President Bush intervened and ordered the seized material turned over to a Justice Department official not involved in the investigation, for 45 days to allow time for discussion of ground rules for such searches.