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Ethics Suspends Jefferson Probe at DOJ’s Request

An investigative subcommittee of the House ethics committee unanimously agreed to suspend its two-month-long investigation into indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) after the Justice Department expressed concerns that the panel’s inquiry would interfere with the FBI’s ongoing criminal investigation, according to a statement posted on the committee’s Web site Friday. As a result, the ethics committee has agreed not to “interview or depose witnesses” related to the Jefferson matter following multiple conversations with the Justice Department in which DOJ argued doing so “would complicate or impede the criminal prosecution and related law enforcement efforts in this matter.” The committee instead said it will continue to monitor the criminal proceedings. It did not rule out all efforts to investigate the Louisiana lawmaker; however, without the ability to contact potential witnesses the panel is unlikely to conduct any significant work or conclude any investigation in the short term. Jefferson’s trial is slated to begin Jan.16, 2008. The statement notes that the decision was made after reviewing the “historical handling” of investigations on sitting Members who are under outside investigation. The four members of the investigative subcommittee are Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), John Kline (R-Minn.) and Tom Latham (R-Iowa). The subcommittee made the recommendation to Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). The announcement came on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling on Friday that declared a May 2006 raid of Jefferson’s Congressional office unconstitutional and said the lawmaker can demand the return of documents taken in the raid that would fall under the Speech or Debate Clause protections provided to the legislative branch. Jefferson was indicted in June on 16 criminal counts, including charges of racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering for allegedly accepting bribes to help a telecommunications company obtain government contracts in Africa. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

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