|Prosecutors accuse Jefferson of playing for a delay|
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Monday June 23, 2008, 6:22 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department says that Rep. William Jefferson's request for court help in taking depositions from three potential witnesses is far from the search for the truth claimed by his attorneys but rather an effort to cause "indefinite delay" in his public corruption trial.
The trial is now scheduled to begin Dec. 2 in Alexandria, Va., although U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III said that date could slip into 2009.
At issue is Jefferson's request for government assistance in arranging depositions in Africa and Europe from former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, his wife, Jennifer, and Nigerian businessman Suleiman Yahyah. The government has named all three as un-indicted co-conspirators in the case against Jefferson, D-New Orleans.
In a brief filed late Friday, the Justice Department says that if Jefferson believed the testimony of the three "would really exonerate him," he could have tried to secure their testimony soon after his indictment in June 2007 of charges that include bribery, racketeering and conspiracy.
Both sides have accused the other of delay in the complicated legal proceedings with Jefferson's attorneys arguing that the Justice Department was slow to provide required evidence and information to the defense.
In its most recent filing, the Justice Department reiterated its concerns that testimony taken abroad would not be covered by U.S. perjury laws.
Jefferson's attorneys said it should be up to a jury to determine whether the testimony of the three witnesses is credible.
The Justice Department also released a report from the State Department about unstable political conditions in Nigeria, saying it showed that scheduling a deposition there could pose danger to government lawyers. Mrs. Abubakar has expressed a willingness to be questioned in Europe.
In public statements all three of the witnesses have denied taking part in what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to funnel bribes to then Vice President Abubakar and others to advance a telecommunications project sponsored by a Kentucky firm that Jefferson was assisting.
"The government should not be able to place these witnesses beyond the reach of the defense simply by naming them as un-indicted co-conspirators," Jefferson's brief said. "The jury, which is the ultimate fact finder in the case, should have the opportunity to hear and assess their testimony in its search for the truth. The credibility of the testimony is a matter for the jury and concerns about the jury's ability to assess the witnesses' demeanor can be addressed by videotaping the depositions."
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.