- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Justice Department’s ongoing bribery investigation of Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana did not prevent Democrats yesterday from appointing him to the Homeland Security Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, removed Mr. Jefferson from the prestigious Ways and Means Committee last year citing the investigation but says “homeland security is an appropriate place for him to be.”

The appointment angered Republicans who vowed to break decades of precedent and demand a recorded vote when Democrats bring the measure to the floor.

“House Democrats and their leaders should immediately reconsider this baffling and troubling decision,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“The Democrats previously determined Congressman Jefferson is unfit to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the nation’s finances and trade, so it is difficult to comprehend how they can approve of Congressman Jefferson’s fitness for a seat on the Homeland Security Committee, with access to America’s most sensitive and closely guarded intelligence information,” Mr. Boehner said.

The threat is likely to prompt Democrats to ratify Mr. Jefferson’s seat in a late-night voice vote, but a senior House Republican aide says Republicans will monitor floor proceedings day and night to block the unanimous-consent measure.

“Members rarely, if ever, oppose another party’s steering committee selection,” the aide said of the confirmation practice, which predates World War II.

“It’s usually a sleeper vote, these votes historically come up with very little fanfare because it’s an arrangement that we don’t mess with each others’ appointments. There has been no reason to, until now,” the aide said. “This is a big break in precedent.”

Mr. Jefferson dismissed the Republicans’ call for a vote as “simply politics as usual” and said that “as the congressional member who represents hurricane-ravaged New Orleans,” he is particularly needed on “this panel, which oversees FEMA and examines how to improve federal response to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.”

He said of Mrs. Pelosi that “all she is trying to do is come to the aid of Louisiana constituents who were devastated some 18 months ago … the same people who were unable to receive the federal assistance they needed on the watch of the very same Republican leadership.”

Mr. Jefferson, the focus of an FBI bribery investigation, was videotaped in July 2005 accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant who was wearing a wire. According to an 83-page FBI affidavit in the probe, agents found $90,000 hidden in a freezer in his Northeast Washington home in August.

The affidavit, filed to support a subsequent raid on his congressional office, said the cash was wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers. Serial numbers found on the currency in the freezer matched serial numbers of funds given by the FBI to their informant.

In January 2006, former Jefferson aide Brett M. Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, saying the congressman demanded money in exchange for brokering two African telecommunications deals.

Four months later, Vernon Jackson, chief executive of IGate Inc., a Louisville, Ky., telecommunications firm, pleaded guilty to bribery, saying he gave cash to Mr. Jefferson and his family members in exchange for help obtaining business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Jackson was sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in prison.

According to the affidavit, the FBI uncovered “at least seven other schemes in which Jefferson sought things of value in return for his official acts.”

Mr. Jefferson has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

“In the real world, Mr. Jefferson wouldn’t even be given a job as a security guard until and unless the issue of the $90,000 in his refrigerator was resolved satisfactorily,” the Republican aide said. “Common sense dictates that the same standard, at least, should be applied for a job protecting our national security.”

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