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US House Removes Lawmaker from Committee Position Amid Bribery Probe


The U.S. House of Representatives has stripped a lawmaker of his seat on a key congressional committee amid an ongoing bribery-related investigation of his activities by federal authorities. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, House Democrats earlier voted to act against Congressman William Jefferson who has denied any wrongdoing.

By unanimous consent Friday, the House approved a simple one sentence Democratic resolution removing Congressman Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, from his position on the House Ways and Means Committee.

With Democrats attempting in a congressional election year to focus the public's attention on what they call a "culture of corruption" among Republicans in Congress, the case of Congressman Jefferson has been especially troublesome.

Congressman Jefferson has not been indicted, but remains the subject of a federal corruption investigation in which prosecutors allege he was involved in a number of business-related bribery schemes.

As part of the investigation, authorities say they videotaped Jefferson accepting money from a federal informant. In a search of Jefferson's home, they say $90,000 in marked bills was found stored in a freezer.

All of this added to the embarrassment for congressional Democrats who have sought to portray majority Republicans as being the primary wrongdoers in an ethics cloud hanging over Congress.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, rejects suggestions that the Jefferson issue is making it harder for Democrats to use the ethics issue against Republicans on the road to November mid-term legislative elections.

"If we have any incidents of that [personal corruption] in our caucus we will deal with them," she said. "That is quite different from the Republican caucus. The entire Republican caucus condoned, enabled and benefited from the culture of corruption here and that is what I will continue to rail against and provide a new direction."

Pelosi rejected allegations from members of the Congressional Black Caucus that Congressman Jefferson, who is an African-American, was not being afforded due process, saying the Democratic leadership had been "more than fair" to him as he makes his case amid the federal investigation into his affairs.

Earlier, Jefferson, in a letter to Pelosi, raised the issue of what he called "the appearance of unfairness and even racial discrimination" noting that another House Democrat, who is white, was allowed to keep his seat on another House committee even though he is under investigation over questions involving his personal finances.

Congressman Jefferson spoke to reporters after his fellow Democrats Thursday voted 99 to 58 to strip him of his committee seat.

"I simply asked the members of the caucus to put themselves in my shoes, to imagine themselves standing where I was standing, and to ask whether it would be deemed by them to be fair in a case where a member has had allegations, nonetheless serious allegations, made against him by third parties and perhaps by some in the press, whether or not that is going to be the rule by which we operate here," he said.

As part of the federal bribery probe into Congressman Jefferson, the Justice Department took the unprecedented step of searching Congressman Jefferson's congressional office, removing computer and other records - sparking a dispute between Congress and the government over separation of powers and other constitutional issues.

President Bush stepped into the controversy and ordered materials from the lawmaker's office sealed for 45 days while efforts continue to resolve the matter.

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