A Democratic congressman facing a bribery probe after FBI agents found $90,000 stashed in his freezer denied wrongdoing on Monday and said he would not resign his congressional seat.
“There are two sides to every story. There are certainly two sides to this story,” Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana told reporters, adding that he could not discuss details of the pending federal investigation.
“This is not the time, this is not the forum” to discuss it, he said.
He declared his innocence and vowed he would not step down.
“I expect to continue to represent the people who sent me here,” he said.
The investigation has complicated Democratic efforts to exploit several scandals involving Republicans as they try to take back control of Congress in November’s elections.
FBI investigators raided Jefferson’s office over the weekend and disclosed they had videotaped the New Orleans lawmaker accepting $100,000 cash intended as a bribe for a Nigerian official.
The FBI also said in a court affidavit that it found $90,000 of that money hidden in a freezer in his house.
Jefferson criticized the government for using police powers to enter the office of a member of Congress, saying, “There is no real authority for it.”
“I will admit that these were unusual steps that were taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in response to questions about the justification for the FBI search on Capitol Hill.
Commenting on the unprecedented search of the congressman’s office, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: “Members of Congress must obey the law and cooperate fully with any criminal investigation, If they don’t, they will be held accountable.”
Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have so far stopped short of calling on Jefferson to resign.
Former associates have said Jefferson accepted more than $400,000 in bribes to help them sell telecommunications technology to Nigeria and other West African countries.
Two of those associates, former congressional aide Brett Pfeffer and Kentucky businessman Vernon Jackson, have pleaded guilty to bribery charges and are cooperating in the investigation.
Court papers filed in those two cases say Jefferson demanded payments to a company maintained in the name of his wife and children in return for helping Jackson’s company, iGate Inc.
Jefferson also faces an ethics probe by his colleagues in the House, which has been shaken by a string of corruption scandals over the past year.
California Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham is serving more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor. Investigators are also looking at the involvement of other lawmakers and staffers.
A separate corruption probe centered on former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has resulted in guilty pleas for three former top Republican aides, including two who worked for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is resigning from Congress next month.
Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney is also under scrutiny by the Justice Department and the House ethics committee for his links to Abramoff, though no charges have been filed and he maintains his innocence.
Both houses of Congress have passed legislation that would require greater disclosure of lobbying activities, though many Democrats and outside groups say neither bill goes far enough.
Congressional leaders have yet to appoint negotiators to resolve the differences between the two bills.
© Reuters 2006