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Congressman Under Investigation Won't Resign

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Congressman William Jefferson says he will not resign. He says that, even though the FBI videotaped him taking a cash bribe of $100,000.

Over the weekend, agents searched the Capitol Hill office of the Louisiana Democrat, and that has some lawmakers saying the FBI went too far. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

This was Congressman Jefferson last week in New Orleans, stridently defending himself against charges of bribery.

Representative WILLIAM JEFFERSON (Democrat, Louisiana): I would take full responsibility for any crimes that I committed, if that were the case. But I would not plead guilty to something I did not do, no matter how things are made to look and no matter the risk.

BURBANK: But, oh, what a difference a week and an FBI search of your congressional office makes. This was Jefferson at a press conference yesterday afternoon on Capitol Hill.

Rep. JEFFERSON: Well, I, I can't talk about, the, the facts of the matter. And therefore, I'm, I won't make a response to that.

BURBANK: Jefferson had a certain deer in the headlights look about him as he faced the sea of cameras. He said he couldn't comment on the FBI's accusations against him of bribery, wire fraud, and other misdeeds.

Rep. JEFFERSON: ...there are two sides to every story. There are certainly two sides of this story. There'll be an appropriate time and forum of when that can be explained and explicated.

BURBANK: Apparently, yesterday's press conference, however, was not that time. The FBI's 83-page affidavit against Jefferson reads like a Tom Clancy novel. According to the document, it all started back in March of 2005, when a Virginia businesswoman came to the FBI claiming Jefferson and his associates had ripped her off for $3.5 million. She agreed to work as an informant. The alleged bribery centered around a Kentucky company called I-Gate, which was looking to corner telecommunications business in Africa.

Congressman Jefferson allegedly said he could make that happen, but for a price. What followed, according to the FBI, was a series of shady deals, culminating in a videotaped meeting between the informant and Jefferson, during which he allegedly accepted $100,000. Just a few days later, the FBI says a search of Jefferson's Washington home turned up $90,000 of that money, wrapped in foil and stored in a freezer.

Representative JOEL HEFLEY (Republican, Colorado): Things like what they're accusing Jefferson of, where you're having out and out bribes and satchels full of money and videotapes of people taking bribes, I think it erodes the confidence that the American public has.

BURBANK: Congressman Joel Hefley is a Colorado Republican and a former member of the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. HEFLEY: And there's a tendency to think all politicians are crooks, anyway. It hurts the institution.

BURBANK: One thing both sides of the aisle did seem to share yesterday, though, was a certain level of discomfort over the FBI's weekend search of Jefferson's Capitol Hill office. According to the Senate Historian, it was the first time such a search warrant had been executed - a distinction Congressman Jefferson could have done without.

Rep. JEFFERSON: I think it represents the, an outrageous intrusion. And the separation the powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch. As far as I know, there's no real authority for it.

BURBANK: When asked about the search, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted the move was unusual, but then pointed out that so too are the charges against Congressman Jefferson.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: We've got a copy of the FBI's warrant to search Congressman Jefferson's office, and you can read it at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Luke Burbank
Luke Burbank is kind of amazed that NPR is letting him co-host its new morning show, The Bryant Park Project, NPR's new morning news show launched on October 1, 2007.