- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

House Democrats voted by a nearly 2-to-1 margin yesterday to oust Rep. William J. Jefferson from his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, a little-precedented move that angered the party’s black lawmakers.

The 99-58 vote, taken last night in a Cannon Caucus Room gathering of the party’s representatives and delegates, sends the measure to the House floor.

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus denounced House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s campaign against Mr. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat. The caucus members were reluctant to oust Mr. Jefferson from his tax-committee seat based on press and broadcast reports and leaked information related to an ongoing bribery investigation before he has been charged with any crime.

“I asked the caucus to put themselves in my shoes and if this was fair, where there are only allegations from third parties and some in the press, whether we would be ruled or make up our rules based on that,” Mr. Jefferson said.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said criminal trials and past caucus procedures were not the issue and that Mr. Jefferson has had his opportunity to plead his case, defend himself before the caucus and work with the leadership by voluntarily stepping down, which he refused to do.

“We have a higher ethical standard. This is not a court of law; this is about a higher ethical standard, and you know when it isn’t being met,” she said, adding that she had “been more than fair” to Mr. Jefferson by noting her opposition to the FBI raid of his office and her support of his amicus brief to have his records returned.

Mrs. Pelosi denied any racial bias in her effort to oust Mr. Jefferson but not Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat who is white and is suspected of using his House Appropriations Committee seat to funnel money and contracts to numerous nonprofit groups and a business-partner relative. Mr. Mollohan did step down from the ethics panel.

“Mr. Jefferson has had two people plead guilty to bribing him,” she said. “We don’t know if Mr. Mollohan is even being investigated.”

Many in the black caucus have said other members under investigation remained in committee seats before charges were filed. Caucus members and staff could come up with only one case of a Democrat being ousted from a House panel without any charges being filed. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell of New York, who was black, was ousted in 1967 over corruption accusations that were not crimes under pre-Watergate ethics laws.

“Our experience has been throughout history is that you have to have a set of rules to adhere to and abide by, and if you don’t, it leaves you with a process that can be abused and one that you can’t count on,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and caucus chairman.

Black caucus sources also dismissed Mrs. Pelosi’s claim that the situations are not analogous because of the lack of confirmation of any Mollohan probe. The sources point out that Mr. Mollohan also sits on the subcommittee that oversees the FBI and Justice Department.

The Democratic caucus met for an hour as Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Jefferson made their cases. Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Steven R. Rothman of New Jersey managed the debate. Mr. Rothman told reporters that his motion to table the matter was rejected by a 91-61 vote, and added, “I felt that in the absence of any rule this was extremely arbitrary and provides potential for abuse.”

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