- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

From combined dispatches

The Congressional Black Caucus yesterday denounced attempts to strip Rep. William J. Jefferson of a key committee post as racially biased, with the group’s chairman saying House Democrat leaders’ efforts against the Louisiana lawmaker were “about to blow up in their face.”

The caucus chairman, Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, told reporters that some black voters might ask why action was sought against “a black member of Congress” when there was neither a precedent nor a rule for it.

Mr. Jefferson has not been indicted and has denied all wrongdoing in connection with a federal bribery investigation that has netted two convictions. He has rebuffed repeated calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and others to step down from his post on the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee.

“The rule is you lose your leadership position or chairmanship” only after indictment, said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, who is black.

Mr. Watt said the leadership was open to a charge that it was acting out of political expedience.

“It’s about to blow up in their face,” he added.

“You’ve got a whole base of people out there who believe that the Democratic Party takes them for granted already,” Mr. Watt said. If action is taken only against “a black member of Congress, then our community will legitimately ask, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ ”

Mr. Watt spoke after a Democratic leadership group voted to strip Mr. Jefferson of his committee post, at least temporarily. The entire rank and file then was summoned to debate the issue, but several officials said Mr. Watt invoked a rule forcing any vote to be delayed five days.

After the meeting Mr. Watt distributed a statement that said the Congressional Black Caucus perhaps has a “unique appreciation of our nation’s constitutional guarantee of the presumption of innocence.”

The statement also said that the group “therefore opposes suggestions that some have made to force Representative Jefferson to resign from Congress or to remove him involuntarily from his position on the Ways and Means Committee in the absence of precedents that have been historically applied and will be consistently applied in the future.”

“I can guarantee” that Mr. Jefferson will not voluntarily step aside, Jefferson spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said earlier.

Several officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Jefferson had rebuffed a final appeal to step aside voluntarily in a meeting with three fellow Democrats dispatched by party leaders.

Another Democrat, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, is under federal investigation over his real estate partnerships with individuals who benefited from budget “earmarks” that Mr. Mollohan, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, put into legislation. While Mrs. Pelosi forced Mr. Mollohan, who is white, to relinquish his position on the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee, he has kept his seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Mrs. Pelosi first accused Republicans of a “culture of corruption” in September after a Texas grand jury indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. The Texan has resigned, effective today, but Democrats have continued using the “culture of corruption” label in their campaign to recapture the House in November.

However, the issue has been muddied by the investigations of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Mollohan, as well as by other incidents involving such congressional Democrats as Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island.

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