Within 24 hours of being slapped with a 29-count indictment , Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., voluntarily relinquished his ranking member position on an appropriations subcommittee and resigned as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Board of Directors.
Both actions were appropriate, said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield — and, he suggested, necessary. "He's a good friend, a good colleague, a very talented man who has done a lot for his constituents," the North Carolina Democrat told CQ Roll Call on Thursday. "But he's facing a crisis in his life, and nothing right now should compete with his crisis. So my advice to him would be to face these charges and listen to his lawyer and get ready to defend himself."
These were Butterfield's first public remarks on the matter since the news broke Wednesday that, after a years-long federal investigation, Fattah would face over two dozen allegations of racketeering, conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud in connection with his failed 2007 campaign for mayor of Philadelphia.
"Yesterday I kept my mouth shut because I needed to collect all the facts," Butterfield explained. "I needed to read the summary of the indictment, I wanted to talk to my colleagues about it, because I didn't want to be irresponsible, making a statement I would later regret.
"But I have considered," Butterfield continued. "I have considered it overnight. I have spoken to many, many of my colleagues, and Congressman Fattah is facing a very serious criminal indictment and he needs to use all of his resources and all of his time and energy defending himself on these charges."
When asked whether he thought Fattah should resign from Congress to focus on his case without distraction, Butterfield said simply, "I'm not gonna go that far."
He said, "I believe in the presumption of innocence and I think that's between him and his constituents."
Butterfield also said the CBC would not be taking a formal position on Fattah and his situation.
Fattah has maintained his innocence and told reporters Wednesday he had every intention of seeking a 12th term in office in 2016.
On Thursday morning, the CBC Foundation, the education and policy nonprofit closely linked to the CBC organization on Capitol Hill, released a statement announcing a new board chairman — real estate entrepreneur Don Peebles — and praising Fattah for his leadership.
"Under Rep. Fattah’s leadership, the foundation advanced its mission to develop leaders, inform public policy and educate the public by expanding its education, economic empowerment, public health and environmental sustainability initiatives," according to the release.
It made no mention of the circumstances under which Fattah, after there years as board chairman, was stepping aside.