- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

The House Democratic Steering Committee yesterday took the unprecedented step of calling for embattled Louisiana Rep. William J. Jefferson to step down from the House Ways and Means Committee, angering Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members.

Several CBC members suggested Mr. Jefferson, the focus of an FBI investigation into bribery and influence peddling accusations, is being treated differently than other legislators previously accused of wrongdoing because he is black.

“Dan Rostenkowski, who was the chairman of Ways and Means, was investigated for fraud and was later convicted, and he was not forced to step down; Gary Condit was investigated for murder and he was not forced to step down, so why now all of a sudden do we do this,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat and CBC member.

House Democratic Caucus chairman James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, sought to cool tempers by postponing a full party vote on the matter for five days. A majority vote of no confidence is needed for removal from a committee seat.

Mr. Clyburn, a former CBC chairman, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s decision as chair of the steering committee to call yesterday’s vote has “the potential to threaten” the cohesive relationship black Democrats have with the party.

“But does it break it, we’ll have to see?” he said.

The CBC in a statement released a day before the hearing said it opposes forcing Mr. Jefferson to resign from either the committee or Congress “in the absence of precedents that have been historically applied and will be consistently applied in the future.”

Several Democrats yesterday predicted the party would vote for removing Mr. Jefferson, despite the rift they expected it to created black House members and leadership.

CBC members also have told The Washington Times that some lawmakers see a double standard in Mrs. Pelosi’s push to have Mr. Jefferson removed from the committee.

Several CBC staffers said Mrs. Pelosi made no similar demand for Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, West Virginia Democrat, who also is involved in an ethics scandal, to step aside from the House Appropriations Committee. He has relinquished his position on the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee.

A conservative group in West Virginia called for an investigation into Mr. Mollohan’s dealings with a distant cousin, who used his connection to the congressman to win work with a nonprofit that Mr. Mollohan established and a federal contract in his district.

Mr. Jefferson has professed his innocence and refused Mrs. Pelosi’s call for him to leave the powerful committee that writes tax legislation and oversees major programs such as social security.

Two associates of Mr. Jefferson, including a former aide, already have pleaded guilty to bribing him. The FBI in court documents also has revealed that it recovered $90,000 from his freezer and has audiotapes it says depicts him seeking bribes.

Several Democrats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say Mrs. Pelosi has no choice but to take a hard line against Mr. Jefferson.

“She promised members that we were going to run on this culture of corruption, which was a questionable plan. Everyone, who knows anything, knows that corruption cuts both ways on both sides of the aisle,” said one member.

“So now she has members calling for Jeff’s head and she is doing everything she can to save face.”

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