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Jefferson Pleads Not Guilty to Bribery, Fraud


Congressman William Jefferson, the New Orleans Democrat indicted this week on corruption charges, today entered a not guilty plea in federal court. After the arraignment he spoke to the press and began to layout his defense.

Here's NPR's Peter Overby.


PETER OVERBY: Throughout the two-year investigation, Congressman Jefferson has had virtually nothing to say about it. Not when the FBI searched his home, not even when they raided his Capitol Hill office. But after court today, Jefferson led into the indictment. It alleges a complex two-continent scheme of bribes and business deals to benefit not only Jefferson but also members of his family.

Representative WILLIAM JEFFERSON (Democrat, Louisiana): This is not who we are. This is not who I am. This is not what I have done.

OVERBY: As for the most notorious part of the case, the FBI said it videotaped Jefferson taking $100,000 in marked bills from an informant. And a few days later agents found most of it in foil-wrapped bundles of $10,000 in the freezer at his house.

Jefferson called it a sting. He said the FBI meant for him to bribe someone else with the money but he didn't. He said that he and his family won't cave to political pressure.

Rep. JEFFERSON: And then we will sell every stick of furniture in our home. And anything else we own or that we may possess to clear our name and to see that justice is done.


OVERBY: The trial is set for early January. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee is reopening a lapsed investigation targeting Jefferson. Their mandate is to make a recommendation regarding his expulsion from the House.

Lawyer Stanley Brand, a veteran of Washington's ethics battles, says that in the long run, House Ethics actions don't matter that much.

Mr. STANLEY BRAND (Litigation Attorney, Washington): Yes, the Democrats are under tremendous amount of pressure having to run on ethics, but I think the criminal process is going to overwhelm the self-disciplinary process as it's usually does.

OVERBY: After all, the House could only take away Jefferson's job. A judge and jury could send him to prison.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.