Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) faced the press for 308 seconds this afternoon, reiterating his innocence and proclaiming that “there are two sides to this story” just two days after federal agents executed a search warrant in his Capitol Hill office.
Standing in the noisy lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building, just a few hundred feet from the office that was the site of Saturday night’s raid, the 59-year-old Jefferson refused to address any of the “alleged facts” in the government’s corruption probe, citing the advice of his lawyers.
“There will be an appropriate time for me to explain and explicate it, but this is not that time and this is not that forum,” Jefferson said.
In an affidavit to obtain a search warrant, the Justice Department revealed that Jefferson is being investigated for possible bribery and wire fraud, as well as “at least seven other schemes in which [he] sought things of value.” The government also says it has a videotape of Jefferson receiving $100,000 in cash from a cooperating witness.
Asked at his press conference to deny specifically that he’d taken a $100,000 cash bribe, Jefferson said, “I know there is a great deal of interest in having me answer questions about facts. I’ve simply told you I will not get involved in it. It is not a prudent thing to do based on the advice of counsel.”
The Jefferson probe has been in the news since last summer, when federal agents raided his home in Washington, D.C. In January, one of the Congressman’s former aides, Brett Pfeffer, pleaded guilty to helping bribe Jefferson.
House Democratic leaders have handled the matter somewhat gingerly, aware that Jefferson has many allies in the powerful Congressional Black Caucus. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) have so far stopped short of calling for Jefferson’s resignation, saying only that he should be held accountable for any wrongdoing. But they did irritate some in the CBC by calling for the ethics committee to look into the matter — something that the long-dormant committee agreed to do late last week.
One key member of the CBC said late Monday that he has no plans to abandon his colleague, publicly or privately.
“I will just wait until all the facts come out,” said Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), a former CBC chairman who has donated to Jefferson’s legal defense fund. “In my eyes, he’s innocent until proven otherwise.”
Payne said no CBC member he has spoken with has suggested shunning Jefferson. He also said that Jefferson has not been lobbying the CBC members for support.
“We haven’t had any discussions, other than him saying that it’ll all come out at the right time,” Payne said. “Then we went on and just talked about hunting — and I’m not a hunter. That was last week.”
Jefferson said he has no plans to resign his seat and that he expects to seek re-election — “but that’s a matter that’s down the road.”
“I plan to go to the floor to vote tonight, I plan to go to the floor to vote tomorrow and carry out my responsibilities here as I have for the time I’ve been here,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.