Lawyers for Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) filed a flurry of motions Friday accusing the government of an array of misdeeds — from violating the rules of evidence to racism — in an apparent effort to turn the focus of the case from the conduct of the Congressman to the conduct of the investigation.
Jefferson’s legal team is asking the court to throw out most of the charges against him; move the remaining charges to a court in the District of Columbia; bar the use of any evidence collected from his Congressional office; declare the search of his home improper and void any evidence collected there; expunge any statements Jefferson made to FBI agents who raided his home; and review the evidence provided to the grand jury to ensure that his rights under the constitutional Speech or Debate Clause were not violated.
Perhaps the most novel of Jefferson’s motions is the allegation that since the Congressman is black, the government manipulated the case to place it in the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where there would be more whites in the jury pool than if the case were tried in Washington, D.C.
The motion argues that since the bulk of the alleged crimes took place in D.C., where Jefferson’s Congressional office is, or in New Orleans, where Jefferson resides, there is no reason for the case to be heard in Virginia. The primary connection to the Old Dominion is that an FBI informant invited Jefferson to Virginia for a meeting to hand over cash, which the motion argues took place at the behest of the FBI.
“The defendant is African American, and the government’s chosen venue has a markedly lower percentage of African Americans in the potential jury pool than the District of Columbia, where the case fairly belongs,” his lawyers wrote. Jefferson is seeking an investigation of the Justice Department’s process for selecting a venue in the case.
Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said the Virginia court is an appropriate place to try the case. “The indictment unsealed in June alleges facts supporting jurisdiction and venue in the Eastern District of Virginia. This venue is appropriate as we have indicated in public court filings and as represented by the guilty pleas of two alleged co-conspirators in the Eastern District of Virginia.”
Vernon Jackson, a Kentucky businessman, and Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson staffer, have already pleaded guilty in the case.
Jefferson was indicted in June on 18 corruption charges, based on allegations that he took bribes from business owners in exchange for helping their businesses; the FBI famously recovered $90,000 from the Congressman’s freezer, cash which was allegedly to be used to bribe officials in Nigeria.
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.