William Jefferson and Corruption

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By all accounts, William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat caught taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, should resign. That’s certainly what the DailyKos people are demanding. And in the interest of showing zero tolerance for congressional corruption, I’d agree. On the other hand, part of me wonders if maybe he should just stick it out and brazenly proclaim his innocence. That seems to have worked pretty well for Bob Ney and Jerry Lewis. No, okay, resign it is.

Now as Matt Yglesias says, it’s a bit daft to try to equate this Jefferson scandal with the Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham scandals and suggest that “both” parties have the same problem with corruption. DeLay, of course, was House Majority Leader. Sort of a big deal. Duke Cunningham sat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense and quite literally whored out defense contracts to the highest bidder. In both cases, as with the other GOP cases now under investigation, government was up for sale. Policy was up for sale. It’s the sort of thing that can adversely affect millions of people. Jefferson… was something of a two-bit crook trying to get rich quick. Bad stuff, and if there are other corrupt Democrats throw those bums out too, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Meanwhile, though, check out this Washington Post article about how all sorts of members of Congress are outraged that the federal government would raid Jefferson’s home, just like that:

Republican leaders, who previously sought to focus attention on the Jefferson case as a counterpoint to their party’s own ethical scandals, said they are disturbed by the raid. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that he is “very concerned” about the incident and that Senate and House counsels will review it.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) expressed alarm at the raid. “The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case,” he said in a lengthy statement released last night.

“Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress,” he said. “Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years.”

Hilarious. If the Bush administration wants to wiretap ordinary citizens without a warrant, or break the law to retrieve phone records, eh, Hastert and Frist will happily go along with it. Who needs privacy? But if it’s their constitutional rights at stake, then lordy, the madness ends here. Granted, there might be legitimate concerns here—in the abstract, no one wants the executive branch to be able to harass legislators willy-nilly, although I don’t know the finer points of law on this issue—but the unintended irony is a bit obnoxious.

Meanwhile, Justin Rood wonders if Republicans are simply complaining right now because they’re afraid that the FBI might be coming for them next. Could be.


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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