By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The House ethics committee has suspended its investigation into Rep. William J. Jefferson, acceding to requests from federal prosecutors who believe the congressional inquiry could interfere with the criminal case against the Louisiana Democrat, who was indicted this summer on 16 corruption charges.
The six-member subcommittee handling the inquiry decided to hold off because of concerns from the Justice Department that it "might create legal or factual issues that would complicate or impede the criminal prosecution and related law enforcement efforts in this matter," the panel's top lawmakers, Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), said in a statement.
Jefferson, who relinquished all committee posts after his indictment, has denied wrongdoing, and he has vowed to fight all criminal charges and to continue to serve in the House. His attorney, Robert P. Trout, declined to comment yesterday.
On June 4 a federal grand jury charged Jefferson with taking about $400,000 in bribes for himself and his family in exchange for his official work in promoting business and trade deals in seven West African nations. He is the first member of Congress to be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribery of foreign officials. Jefferson was caught on tape accepting $100,000 from a cooperating witness who, according to the FBI, gave the lawmaker the money with the expectation that it would go to a Nigerian official.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that when the FBI raided Jefferson's congressional office in May 2006 as part of the bribery investigation, it violated the Constitution by not allowing the lawmaker to assert privilege over some of the seized documents under the "speech or debate" clause, which asserts that the executive branch cannot criminalize the normal legislative duties of members of Congress.
Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.