- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

The House yesterday voted to remove Rep. William J. Jefferson from a prestigious tax-writing committee amid a federal corruption investigation, a move the Louisiana Democrat said is unprecedented and has suggested is racially motivated.

The full House approved on a voice vote a resolution that stripped him of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, less than 24 hours after the House Democratic Caucus called for it.

Mr. Jefferson, who has not been charged and says he is innocent, repeatedly has rebuffed requests from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to step aside while he dealt with the FBI investigation. He did not object to holding yesterday’s vote, but complained of being made an election-year “scapegoat.”

“Unfortunately, Minority Leader Pelosi wants so badly to win leadership in the House that she has persuaded the caucus to sacrifice my constituents, who, after [Hurricane] Katrina, need my leadership on my committee more than ever,” said Mr. Jefferson, who represents New Orleans.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat who accuses Republicans of embracing a “culture of corruption,” has said she wanted Mr. Jefferson to step aside to maintain her party’s “high ethical standard.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who supported Mr. Jefferson and said the full caucus vote was unprecedented because the lawmaker has not been charged with a crime, also did not object to the measure.

Mr. Jefferson maintains his innocence but says he expects to be indicted. Court documents reveal he was videotaped accepting a $100,000 bribe and that authorities found $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer.

Meanwhile yesterday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Thomas Hogan indicated he was not likely to grant a request by Mr. Jefferson and the House counsel to have materials returned from a FBI raid of his Capitol Hill office.

The Justice Department has probable cause to conclude that the materials “contain evidence of serious crimes,” said the Judge Hogan.

Members of Congress “do not stand above the law they created; they are bound by it just as ordinary citizens are,” Judge Hogan said.

Earlier this week, Mr Jefferson, who is black, told Mrs. Pelosi in a letter her request to step down seems like “racial discrimination if another member continues serving on an exclusive committee under Justice Department investigation as well, particularly if the other member is white, and is not subject to the same treatment.”

He was referring to Democratic Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, who is also under investigation but remains on the Appropriations Committee. The West Virginia lawmaker, who is white, has been accused of directing $178 million to nonprofit organizations in his district whose leaders were campaign donors. Mr. Mollohan did relinquish his post as the ranking Democrat on the ethics panel at the request of Mrs. Pelosi.

Mrs. Pelosi said the move has nothing to do with race and that the facts of the two cases are different. “Anybody with $90,000 in their freezer can be sure he’s going to hear from me,” she said.

Mr. Jefferson said he told Mrs. Pelosi he would step aside from Ways and Means if the caucus passed a rule that any member be asked to step down from their committee assignments, regardless of whether the member is charged.

Mrs. Pelosi rejected the request, but Caucus Chairman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina said the situation should lead to a complete overhaul of caucus rules.

“The rules of our caucus are arcane, are convoluted, there is nothing good about it,” he said, adding that 40 Democrats next week will begin re-examining them.

Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, agreed. “We ought to have a clear rule.”

Mr. Clyburn said it is unlikely Mr. Jefferson’s seat on the committee would be filled before the November elections.

Mr. Clyburn, who brought the measure to the House floor, defended the minority leader.

“Mr. Jefferson has some legal issues that he and his family must deal with. Mrs. Pelosi has some political issues that she and her caucus must deal with,” he said. “That’s all that was going on here.”

In addition to the found cash and the tapes of Mr. Jefferson accepting bribes, his former legislative aide and a technology executive have pleaded guilty to bribing him.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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