May 27, 2006

JEFFERSON SCANDAL UPDATE:

A former aide to U.S. Rep. William Jefferson was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for his role in a bribery scandal involving the congressman.

Brett Pfeffer, 37, of Herndon, Va., pleaded guilty in January to two bribery-related charges: conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting bribery of a public official.

Pfeffer’s eight-year term was in the mid-range of the federal sentencing guidelines. Pfeffer, who is cooperating in the ongoing investigation of Jefferson, may be eligible for a reduction of his sentence once his cooperation is complete, said prosecutor Mark Lytle.

I wonder what that cooperation will involve.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, an interesting backstory at the Justice Department:

The Justice Department signaled to the White House this week that the nation’s top three law enforcement officials would resign or face firing rather than return documents seized from a Democratic congressman’s office in a bribery investigation, according to administration sources familiar with the discussions.

The possibility of resignations by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was communicated to the White House by several Justice officials in tense negotiations over the fate of the materials taken from Rep. William J. Jefferson’s office.

Assuming this report (based on anonymous sources) is true, it seems likely that this means the Jefferson investigation goes well beyond the not-entirely-newsworthy phenomenon of a corrupt Louisiana Congressman. Even if the claims of Congressional immunity are bogus — which they are — I can’t imagine these guys threatening resignation over a run-of-the-mill corruption case. That makes me think that there are a lot of other members of Congress implicated, which perhaps also explains the rather, um, vigorous reaction from Congress.

UPDATE: Some speculation on what might be going on.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader who claims insider knowledge says not to get ahead of the news cycle on the Gonzales-resignation story. Well, stay tuned!

MORE: Some thoughts from Ed Morrissey:

Hastert and his colleagues have busied themselves with goalpost-moving and backtracking. Before, they claimed a Constitutional privilege of freedom from search warrants and subpoenas from the executive branch, even though Congress regularly issues subpoenas without judicial approval against members of the executive branch. Now Hastert has acknowledged that Congressmen are subject to the same laws as everyone else, but have modified their complaint; now they say the issue is that Jefferson and his attorney were not allowed to be present at the search. That’s a far cry from the phony Constitutional crisis they declared earlier this week, perhaps a more reasonable issue and certainly one that didn’t require Hastert’s intercession. He could have kept his mouth shut and let Jefferson’s attorney raise that question when the evidence got submitted for trial — just like any other defendant in a criminal case.

The denouement of this kerfuffle demonstrates two very important points. George Bush still holds the power in Washington and in the GOP, and this controversy shows that he and the people at Justice remain the adults in charge of the day care center. Hastert has severely damaged himself politically in two ways. No one in the GOP will ever give Hastert the same level of trust again after this attempt to pervert the Constitution, and Republicans will remain furious with him for taking the focus off of William Jefferson and his cash-cow business in selling his vote.

That sounds about right to me.