Monday, February 19, 2007

'Cold Cash' Jefferson May Get Homeland Security Seat

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stripped Rep. William Jefferson of his seat on a powerful tax committee last year, has decided to put him on the Homeland Security panel, infuriating some Republicans who charge he may be a security risk. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was kicked off the Ways and Means Committee amid a federal bribery probe, yet still won re-election to a ninth term. Pelosi is giving him a seat on the panel after Jefferson was outspoken in his criticism of the homeland security agencies that responded to Hurricane Katrina. His appointment must still be formally approved by the rest of the House Democrats. The decision immediately came under fire from the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Peter King. It sends a terrible message," King, R-N.Y., said Friday. "They couldn't trust him to write tax policy, so why should he be given access to our nation's top secrets or making policy for national defense?" "Members of the committee have access to intelligence secrets, plots here in the country, overseas, and people under suspicion. This shows how unimportant the Democrats think homeland security is," King said.Jefferson's chief of staff, Eugene Green, called King's criticism "ridiculous and just politics." "Representing New Orleans as he does, we're very concerned as to what happened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," said Green. "It's just natural for the congressman to serve his constituents on a committee of this nature." Jefferson, 59, is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he accepted bribes related to a telecommunications deal in Africa. The FBI's evidence against him includes $90,000 found in his freezer fodder for late-night talk show jokes but not funny to Pelosi, who had promised to run the most ethical Congress in history. Pelosi stripped Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee over objections from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Meanwhile, the FBI's raid of Jefferson's congressional office ran afoul of lawmakers; Pelosi and then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert succeeded in having the seized material sealed, where it remains pending the outcome of Jefferson's legal challenge.