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Former Lawmaker Takes Stand in Jefferson’s Trial

The first of two former lawmakers scheduled to testify on House procedures in the criminal trial of ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) took the stand Thursday afternoon, as attorneys for both sides sought to define a Member’s official duties.

Ex-Rep. Matthew McHugh (D-N.Y.), who served in the House from 1975 to 1992, testified on behalf of federal prosecutors who are attempting to prove Jefferson violated federal law by soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in West African nations.

Prosecutors have alleged in part that the Louisiana lawmaker used his Congressional status to broker many of the alleged transactions.

Jefferson has denied wrongdoing. His defense team has framed the business deals under scrutiny as legitimate, arguing in part that Jefferson participated in any transactions as a private individual, not as a Member.

During his testimony, McHugh, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, offered a primer on the House itself as well as lawmakers’ day-to-day activities, including voting, committee membership and caucus membership. “A Member of the House performs a variety of functions,— McHugh said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, the lead lawyer for the prosecution, focused his questions in large part on constituent services, asking McHugh about not only what kind of requests are made — personal needs such as Social Security, or business functions — but also on where those requests come from (individuals inside or outside the district).

“We are national legislators. … We vote on everything that relates to the country at large,— McHugh said. He repeatedly stated that a Member may assist an individual outside his or her district if the person has an interest in a committee on which the Member serves.

Lytle also focused on Member influence over the activities of both federal agencies and foreign nations.

“Members of Congress would be perceived by government agencies as having more influence … than the average citizen acting alone,— McHugh testified.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Amy Jackson sought to present a more limited view of official Congressional duties, as well as a more narrow definition of what defines a Member’s constituency.

While McHugh and Jefferson did serve one term in the House together, McHugh, who has retired, said Thursday he did not personally know the Louisianan. “I did know him in a general way,— he said.

Ex-Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) is expected to testify on Jefferson’s behalf when the defense presents its case.

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