After reading an article about disgraced Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson, a Democrat, I was impressed that the state Democratic Party endorsed another candidate in the coming midterm elections. After all, Jefferson has been under a black cloud since it was revealed that the FBI videotaped him accepting $100,000 from an FBI informant. And last August FBI agents found $90,000 in marked $100 bills wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in frozen food containers in Jefferson's freezer in his Washington, D.C. home. Also, the Democratic House caucus tossed him off the powerful House Ways and Means Committee last June, after Jefferson refused to resign when Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked him to do so.
You may remember how Jefferson made news during the Katrina tragedy. In the midst of rescue efforts, he used National Guard troops to help him retrieve belongings from his house in New Orleans. He spent about an hour inside, while residents clung to rooftops awaiting rescue. Now, reasonable people think that he may have been concerned about incriminating materials in his home.
To its credit, Public Citizen, the liberal consumer watchdog group, featured Jefferson on an "Ethics Hall of Shame" list. And Rolling Stone magazine has labeled him "The Bribe Taker" and ranked him among the "10 worst" members of Congress now serving in Washington.
In this year's effective attack on the Republican's culture of corruption, the Jefferson situation gives the Republicans easy ammunition to attack Democrats as equally corrupt. The case against Jefferson is based on his "alleged" demanding of cash and other favors for himself and relatives, in exchange for using his clout to arrange African business deals. Importantly, a former aide who worked for Jefferson from 1995 to 1998 pleaded guilty on bribery charges last January and is cooperating with authorities. He has provided evidence that Jefferson demanded bribes and work for relatives.
Moreover, a Kentucky businessman also pleaded guilty in federal court to bribing Jefferson in a Nigerian scheme with more than $400,000 in payments, company stock and other profit-sharing incentives to promote his company's business dealings in Africa. At one point, Jefferson introduced the businessman to Bill Clinton.
Still, Jefferson, first elected to congress in 1990, has refused to capitulate and plead guilty and quit congress. He has remained stoically silent about his corruption. Legally, he can remain in congress until convicted and that is what he has chosen to do, much to the chagrin of fellow Democratic members of congress. But Jefferson still has considerable support, and not just among constituents. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is supporting him and both the Orleans and Jefferson Parish Democratic executive committees have endorsed him.
Logically, when two people have been found guilty of bribing Jefferson, to believe that Jefferson is innocent of receiving those bribes requires, as Rich Galen said, "a suspension of disbelief amounting to a religious adherence to the concept of an immaculate deception."
I can understand why so many New Orleans' residents remain stubbornly supportive of Jefferson, especially as he has continually invoked "innocent until proven guilty" rhetoric. What bothers me, however, is that top Democrats have not explicitly and forcefully condemned Jefferson and advised New Orleans' residents to vote for the candidate supported by the state party. More to the point, the one Democrat who could ensure that Jefferson not be reelected is Bill Clinton.
So why has Bill Clinton our first black president not taken sides? He could support Jefferson's main Democratic opponent, even without directly attacking Jefferson. But of course he would have considerable basis for publicly saying that for the good of the Democratic Party Jefferson should resign, without directly proclaiming Jefferson's guilt. Though Jefferson's refusal to offer any explanation for the pile of frozen marked bills in his freezer earns him no sympathy.
What does it take for Bill Clinton to be publicly seen as not siding with a besmirched African-American congressman?
Jefferson is a bribe taker. Does Clinton have a problem with the meaning of "is"?
Does Bill Clinton automatically share the pain of such an "alleged" crooked politician more than he cares about attacking political corruption in his own party?
Bill Clinton once said: "Let us all take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country." Where is Clinton's acceptance of more responsibility for fighting political corruption in his own party?
Does he believe that Jefferson could honestly say "I did not take bribes from those convicted of bribing me"?
Does not Bill Clinton want New Orleans' residents to have honest and trustworthy representation in congress?
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