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The Constitution and Rep. William Jefferson

ED GORDON, host:

This week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner began hearings to determine whether or not last week's raid on Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson's Capitol Hill office was Constitutional.

Jefferson is accused of accepting bribes of more than $100,000, in exchange for his influence in a multinational African telecommunications deal. Among other things, the FBI found money hidden in the Congressman's freezer.

Jefferson proclaims his innocence and insists there is still his side of the story. But commentator Deborah Mathis says, as the evidence mounts, his side of the story may, in the end, sound the same.

Professor DEBORAH MATHIS (Columnist; Professor of Journalism, Northwestern University): Here's hoping there's been some horrible mistake in the case shaping up against Congressman William Jefferson. Here's hoping he was conducting some kind of sting of his own in that meeting last summer, in which the FBI allegedly videotaped the Louisiana Democrat taking $100,000 in payoffs.

Here's hoping it was some kind of eccentricity that led Jefferson to wrap $90,000 in aluminum foil and stash it in his refrigerator freezer, or a science experiment. Here's hoping the two folk who've already pleaded guilty to bribing the long-term Congressman for business hook-ups in Africa got the wrong William or the wrong Jefferson, or confused the terminology.

It was jiving him. Yeah, they meant they were guilty of jiving him.

Here's hoping that the FBI is just hyping it up when it says Jefferson might have been involved in at least seven other bribery schemes. But if we must defer to what is probable rather than what is hopeful, I've got to say it doesn't look good for the man from the bayou state, and by extension, it doesn't look good for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which he chairs and which has got to be a little antsy right now; and by extension, not good for the Democratic Party, and by further extension, not good for Capitol Hill.

Why, that was no gunshot that cleared the place last week. That was the stink bomb of corruption going off. Oddly for these archly partisan times, Speaker Dennis Hastert, the top Republican in the House, leapt to Jefferson's defense.

Actually, it was to the defense of the legislative branches right to keep some things off-limits from agents of the executive branch, like the FBI. The argument is that the G-Men's raid of Jefferson's office breached the separation of powers prescribed in the Constitution.

So here's hoping that that's what they're really concerned about - protecting the constitution - and not what the Jefferson raid bodes for others in Congress. Here's hoping the raid is not occasion the biggest shredding party since Fawn Hall put in overtime for Oliver North.

If the allegations are true, Jefferson is a huge disappointment because he is a crook. He was recognized for his brilliance and his mastery of the law. He came through Harvard Law School, for goodness sake. He's sharp and cool and studious. He could've been a contender.

If the allegations aren't true, then Jefferson is a huge disappointment because he is a dolt. What else accounts for an innocent man behaving so suspiciously? Could he be that unlucky?

Here's hoping none of the men and woman on Capitol Hill are actually abusing their power and privilege or engaging in quid pro quo, or using political office as a toy box. Here's hoping... GORDON: Deborah Mathis is a columnist and a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Mathis
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