Okay, so I’m a little behind the news curve on this one, but unfortunately I think we’re going to be stuck with U.S. Rep. “Dollar” Bill Jefferson in the news for some time. Actually, that fact is something I want to write about.
I won’t go into all the details of the bribery scandal here. If you don’t know them, search, uh, anywhere. Actually, Dangerblond gave a pretty good run-down on the whole sordid family and friends way back when, which I think was called “Fuckheads from Fuckland.” The latest juicy bit concerns ousted Council Member and Jefferson protégé Renee Gill-Pratt using an SUV donated to help the city as her personal vehicle. Jefferson arranged to have the vehicles put under her control. A couple of days before she lost her election, she donated the one she had been using to a non-profit, which hired her immediately as soon as she left office, and - ta-da! – she has the SUV again. She, by the way, attributes this lucky coincidence to the largesse of God. Oh, and speaking of Pratt, can I somehow cite her for still having a campaign sign littering the St. Charles neutral ground a block from my apartment? Is there some sort of citizen’s campaign violation fine I can impose as a good New Orleanian? Or how about just plain littering?
Okay, back to Dollar Bill. I do have to say I almost wish the $90,000 had been in his New Orleans freezer instead of his D.C. one, because I have sweet visions of him facing five weeks worth of refrigerator rot and trying to decide if getting the money out would be worth it. $90,000 under pounds and pounds of veggies, chicken, beef, shrimp and oysters all melting together in a small space for over a month in constant 90+ temperatures – what to do, what to do? By the way, if you’re ever faced with this question, the answer is “forget it.” Not only would it be unspeakably disgusting getting it out, but nobody would accept the money because of the stanky stankitty stank. Of course, that never would’ve happened because Dollar Bill has no problem with commandeering military vehicles, including a helicopter, to get a briefcase out of his New Orleans house (the last $10,000?) in the first chaotic days after the flood, vehicles which should have been rescuing people off roofs or at least helping restore order (And isn’t that illegal somehow? Since when do members of Congress have military authority?). Not to mention that said helicopter blew bricks off his house and rained them down on my friend’s car, thereby wrecking one of the few vehicles in New Orleans still unflooded and serviceable.
I was glad to see Dollar Bill removed from his position on the Ways and Means Committee. He argued that he needed to stay because the people of New Orleans need him on the committee these days. Would it help us recover to have influential people on important committees? You bet, but somehow I don’t think people whose own party is trying to oust them really have all that much influence. Another argument he made was that nobody else had ever been removed from a committee before being indicted, to which I was like “Whaaaa?”
Now, I’m all for innocent until proven guilty, but if someone is being investigated for stealing chickens, you don’t leave them in charge of the henhouse. Dollar Bill used his position in Congress and on the W&M Committee to bring in at least one bribe – the way I figure it, he’s suspended. Besides which, they found the marked money in his freezer before Katrina even struck – if he wasn’t in Congress, does anybody believe he wouldn’t have been indicted by now? Charges of racism surrounded Dollar Bill’s removal as well, to which the only real answer is to see what happens next time. Now that the precedent has been set to remove members from positions of power if they are being investigated for abuses of those positions, let’s see them stick to it.
Hooray, by the way, to the Democrats for doing it, even if they did it just to help them in the upcoming elections by way of contrasting themselves to the Republican’s “culture of corruption.” Since Congress usually does the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, I’ll take doing the right thing for the wrong reason any day.
Which brings us to this point – why am I not surprised the only time Republicans come to the defense of one of their Democratic colleagues is the time when it is completely and totally wrong to? House Republicans got all up in arms over the search of Dollar Bill’s office, finally having second thoughts about His Moronic Majesty George II’s abuse of executive power.
Could somebody explain to me why warrantless wiretaps of any old average American are hunky-doory while the warranted search of a Congress member’s office is an offense to truth, justice, mom, apple pie, Superman, and the Constitution?
Unless, that is, members of Congress get to play by different rules from the rest of us, even though I thought we were all created equal and nobody is above the law. And, to misquote a favorite talking point, if the members of Congress have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide.
And as for those Democrats who also bitched and moaned about the search of Dollar Bill’s office (Pelosi, I’m talking to you) – shame on you, too. Again, just like removing him from the committee, part of the uproar was because it had never been done before, as if doing something stupid for hundreds of years is reason to keep doing something stupid.
Anyway, they're all wrong, at least for now. A judge ruled that the search of Dollar Bill’s office does not violate the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. (A Reagan appointee, by the way, before anyone starts in on “activist judges.”) Now, I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I read that clause and it’s pretty clear to me that it’s about protecting members of Congress from harassment over legislation and has nothing to do with criminal investigations, as Dollar Bill and his lawyer claim. In fact, to make that claim would, in the words of Judge Hogan, “have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime.”
Dollar Bill is, of course, appealing the decision, which brings me back to my first point, that we’re going to be hearing about this for quite a while. The first appeal goes to a three-judge panel of U.S. District Court, and then the Supreme Court, and you can imagine how long that will take. Until then, the material seized in the search remains sealed, which means the grand jury doesn’t get to see it, which means they have to wait to indict Dollar Bill. What that means is I’m stuck with a worthless representative for the months (years?) it takes for this to work through the court process. Then, finally, there will be an indictment or not, and Dollar Bill will get his day in court. That’s an awfully long time for New Orleans to be stuck with him.
So, William Jefferson, let me appeal to you directly. If you really want to help the people of New Orleans as you keep claiming, don’t appeal. If you’re indicted, then you can give us your “honorable explanation.” If you’re indeed innocent, you can have your old job and position back and we can get on with the process of recovery. If you’re guilty, we can get you out of the way and get someone in who will help us.
Until then, you’re dead weight, an anchor, and we don’t need anything dragging us further under the water.