More than a year after the House ethics committee voted to launch an investigation into the activities of embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), the panel appears to have stalled in that effort and it is unclear if it has pursued the matter at all since Democrats took control of the chamber in January.
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has a long-standing policy of not commenting on internal matters, but there are indications that no efforts have been made to pursue an inquiry this session.
Attempts to contact Jefferson were unsuccessful, but a spokeswoman said she was unaware of any communications between the lawmaker’s office and the ethics panel this year. “Not to my knowledge,” said Remi Braden-Cooper. “I don’t believe we’ve been contacted and we would have no further comment.”
When then-ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) first announced the Jefferson inquiry on May 17, 2006, they named GOP Reps. Melissa Hart (Pa.) and Tom Latham (Iowa), as well as Democratic Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) and Adam Schiff (Calif.) to serve on the investigative subcommittee.
Yet Hart lost her re-election bid in November and the panel never tapped another lawmaker to serve on the subcommittee — the Members serving on investigative subcommittees are a matter of public record.
Additionally, one knowledgeable Congressional source who declined to be named said there have been no subcommittee meetings on the Jefferson matter this Congress.
Furthermore, it is generally the practice of the ethics committee to release a public statement when they carry over an investigation from one Congress to the next, which requires a vote by the full committee, according to a former member of the committee.
Past statements available on the committee’s Web site show that was the case in carried-over investigations into Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) in 2006 and then-Reps. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) in 2001 and Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) in 1999.
The committee has not released a similar statement on the Jefferson investigation, despite being five months into the new session.
Another indicator is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has yet to name for this Congress the Democrats’ 10-member “ethics pool” — the group of Members preselected by their respective party leaders to serve on investigative subcommittees as they are needed.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) named his pool in early May. It comprises GOP Reps. Latham, Rob Bishop (Utah), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Ander Crenshaw (Fla.), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Phil English (Pa.), Frank Lucas (Okla.), Sue Myrick (N.C.), Mike Simpson (Idaho) and Greg Walden (Ore.).
When it first announced the Jefferson investigation last May, the panel said the investigative subcommittee was charged with examining whether Jefferson “violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct applicable to his conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities” in relation to an ongoing federal investigation.
For two years, the FBI has been probing whether Jefferson took improper payments from the telecommunications firm iGate and attempted to bribe public officials in Nigeria and Ghana. The founder of iGate, Vernon Jackson, and Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson staffer, pleaded guilty to bribing the Congressman.
Complicating the investigation is a separate legal battle still playing out in the courts in which Jefferson is challenging the legality of a May 2006 FBI raid of his Rayburn Building Congressional office.
Last week, Jefferson’s legal team asked a federal court to declare the search of his office unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, and to order the Justice Department to return all documents and hard drives that were removed from the office during the search. The court’s decision is pending.