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June 04, 2007

Comments

hilzoy, I agree completely with you, but don't you know that you are supposed to overlook this kind of thing when a Democrat does it. You will destroy bril's image of you.

john miller: you give bril too little credit. His view of me has outlasted worse blows than this -- many previous postings on Jefferson and other corrupt Democrats, for instance, not to mention my giving money to Jefferson's opponent. (Did I fundraise for her? Can't remember.)

bril will endure.

I so desperately want to chide you about taking statements made in an indictment, which is one-sided and does not allow for a defense response, at face value. But that would be mean-spirited, and I don't actually want to be rude to anyone.

Still, it struck me funny.

john: Once you start denying reality, it becomes very difficult to stop. ;)

There's something I find very troubling about the context (oh no, there's that word again!).

I'm sure we'll all agree that Jefferson is entitled to every bit of due process the law can afford him. I suspect we'll also agree that from what we've HEARD, setting aside all the caveats about how what we hear is different from actual evidence, it sure seems like they have him dead to rights.

With that in mind, it troubles me that this man was reelected by means of support from a great many people who had such little faith in the system that they were willing to attach no weight to the charges against him whatsoever. I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm saying I feel like I live in an entirely different world from those voters.

In my suburban, middle-class world, most people who get charged with crimes do, in fact, end up getting found guilty. Of course, each one of them is entitled to a presumption of innocence, because you never know which defendant might be the wrongfully accused one. But generally, in my experience, the system gets things right - with a sufficiently high degree of accuracy that I can't imagine voting for an indicted politician (or, as in this case, an all-but-indicted one) because there's a very good chance that they actually did what they're accused of.

And so it's hard for me to put myself in the shoes of people whose experience with the justice system leads them to attach literally NO weight to the charges levied by that system. The way I think about it, I guess, is: Imagine if you heard that someone had been charged with a crime in Stalinist Russia. Would you assume, as you do when you pick up the morning paper and read about someone getting indicted, "oh yeah, I guess he probably did it?" I'm thinking few of us would attach any weight at all to charges issuing from such an evil and corrupt regime; in fact, getting on the wrong side of such a regime might be a badge of honor.

It's very disturbing to me that we have any substantial number of US citizens who look at our justice system as the equivalent of Stalinist Russia or some other such regime. If we don't have a substantive problem that's leading to this perception, we have a pretty huge PR problem at a minimum.

I want people to believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty; I don't want them to believe it because they think the system is inalterably corrupt and routinely produces false charges, though. It's worth thinking about how we might ever improve this perception.

Wow, that was a long comment. Sorry to ramble.

LB, I think this is pretty well-understood law here, and the above post seems to satisfy von's view of carefulness, so your praeteritio (which I would find rather snide if it were directed at me) seems out of place.

'Bout time. And, Liz, it can get pretty one sided when you've got the guy on film taking the bribe, and the money is found in his freezer. Sometimes it's the facts that are one sided...

"It's very disturbing to me that we have any substantial number of US citizens who look at our justice system as the equivalent of Stalinist Russia or some other such regime."

Perhaps they believed he was guilty of taking bribes but didn't think that was worth removing him from office.

Yup -- not that Hilzoy needs (or needs to care about) my opinion -- but even I can't quibble with this post. And I'm paid by the quibble.

In terms of his being re-elected, I remember hearing of a poll taken just after the election, and I was surprised by how many voters had not even known of the legal issues. It is a statement about how informed the electorate is. And no, I don't remember the percentage.

Also, his opponent, apparently, did not run a very smart campaign.

ALso, he has, over the years, at leats in the view of his constituency, done a lot for his district.

Add all that together, and things like this happen.

IOW, I don't think it is all laid at the feet of the negative view of the justice system.

Perhaps they believed he was guilty of taking bribes but didn't think that was worth removing him from office.

There's surely some non-trival number of people in this category as well - the thinking being something like "all politicians are corrupt, so why should MINE be the one to suffer?"

This may not be quite as troubling as the other thing I noted, but it's still a mindset I'd like to see less of. Of course, for the fact that some Americans take corruption less than seriously, I completely blame hilzoy's partisan refusal to feature the Democratic culture of corruption more prominently on this blog.

I do apologize if the joke came off unpleasantly; I think it might have been funny in the absence of the bad feeling elsewhere on the blog lately, but I probably should have just skipped it rather than making it in a mealy-mouthed way.

Sorry, von.

I would guess that some of the "let's vote for the obvious crook" crowd are in the "they're all crooks" crowd.

And I think this:

Perhaps they believed he was guilty of taking bribes but didn't think that was worth removing him from office.

is probably right; that he had constituents with strong partisan loyalties and low expectations of politicians honesty-wise, and figured they'd rather a bribe-taking Democrat in office than the alternative.

LB, I'm sure you didn't mean anything untoward and should have said so. I'm in "smite first think later" mode after that last thread, just what I warned against in my last comment there.

Steve: With that in mind, it troubles me that this man was reelected by means of support from a great many people who had such little faith in the system that they were willing to attach no weight to the charges against him whatsoever.

I’m inclined to believe that it was less a lack of faith in the system as it was an acceptance of corruption in politics. I think many people assume most politicians are corrupt so it may level the field some. In certain parts of the country this acceptance is stronger than in others.

I worked in and around Philadelphia for a lot of years. Most people I knew who followed politics at all would tell you how corrupt the city government was. But they keep voting the same people right back in. Mayor Street has never been indicted, as his spokespeople are always quick to point out (although not a few of his friends and staff have been). I watched with interest from afar when it came out that the FBI had bugged his office in 2003. His first term was plagued by scandals, and going into the election in October it comes out that the FBI had his office bugged. It worked to his advantage (black mayor targeted by the FBI during an election season). Before that, he and Katz had been neck and neck. Street won, getting close to 60% of the vote. When I expressed amazement to a friend still living there, he said, “Of course he is corrupt, they are all corrupt. But he is smart enough not to get caught.” There is a real acceptance of it – it’s just how things work some people think. In cities that have had hundreds of years of corruption it’s just a given.

I see several others hit that while I was typing.

Jeeze. I really should not go here as my spelling is so bad… I went to his website to check something and noticed that the state he represents is misspelled in the title of his house.gov website. He could have spent some of the loot on a proofreader. ;)

“Congressman William Jefferson, 2nd District of Louisana”

With that in mind, it troubles me that this man was reelected by means of support from a great many people who had such little faith in the system that they were willing to attach no weight to the charges against him whatsoever. I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm saying I feel like I live in an entirely different world from those voters.

Steve, I hope this falls into the explaining rather than the justifying side, but Jefferson's district takes up the city of New Orleans and the West Bank, and when I went back to NO in March and a friend took me around, she said that there are still areas in the lower Ninth Ward that don't have potable water. Again, this is not to defend Jefferson, but when an electorate gets treated in such a fashion, I don't think it's altogether unfair to suggest that rather than being oblivious to the weight of the charges, they were saying that those were really chicken squat in the face of what they were dealing with. They may have a point, though it pains me to see them use Jefferson as the conduit to make it.

OT for the lawyers here: good news from Guantanamo Bay?

I see OCSteve mentioned the Philadelphia mayoral shenanigans of a few years ago. They had occurred to me also as perhaps shining a light obliquely on Jefferson's reelection. I also wonder if the shadow of the Kingfish doesn't somehow hang over all this--a historical version of that 'he may be a corrupt politician, but he's _our_ corrupt politician and he looks out for us' that some people already mentioned.

I don't know if Philadelphia is a lot like Detroit, where I grew up; but there's always a lot of tricky racial issues any time you're talking about urban politics. I've seen race after race between black candidates where the surest path to victory is to show that your opponent is supported by white people from outside the district; this seems to have played no small part in the Jefferson reelection as well.

In any event, here's an interesting diary on some of the local issues that helped a guy like this get reelected. It's never as simple as a single issue (and I hope I didn't suggest that it was!).

This can seem kind of offensive if you're one of the "white people from outside the district" (as I am); on the other hand, I'm not sure it's very much different from the time that newspaper in England urged its readers to send letters to swing voters in Ohio asking them to vote for Kerry. There's a certain degree of American stubbornness that basically says, if a bunch of outsiders think they know what's best for us, we're going to reelect this crook just to tell them that their advice is unwanted.

Steve: I don't know if Philadelphia is a lot like Detroit, where I grew up; but there's always a lot of tricky racial issues any time you're talking about urban politics.

Definitely. It is always a factor in Philly politics. Street caused quite a commotion speaking to the NAACP in his first term:

“The brothers and sisters are running the city. Oh, yes. The brothers and sisters are running this city. Running it! Don’t you let nobody fool you, we are in charge of the City of Brotherly Love. We are in charge! We are in charge!”

Local radio had a ball.

LB: Still, it struck me funny.

Me too.

Note: when I wrote my first comment on this thread, I hadn't yet read the Venezuela thread, and had no idea that bril had been banned and couldn't defend himself from my snark. I wouldn't have written it otherwise.

Now I have read the Venezuela thread, in its entirety, and am mulling it over.

two thoughts about why the electorate would turn a blind-eye to wrong-doings:

1) this is LA, remember, where the former Governor once made the proud statement "All politicians will *tell* you that they are honest, but I've been *aquitted*, sixteen times!" That's Eddie Edwards, and they re-elected him again and again.

2) I lived and worked in DC during the Marion Barry years, when the electorate re-elected a crook, an incompetent, and a drug addict over and over again. When I would ask people in Anacostia about this (that's where i worked), i'd always get the same answer, which was that he was one of ours, and it was about time that one of ours was getting to work the system the way that white people had been working it for years. Sure he's skimming; about time!

when you think the system is inevitably corrupt, the only question is whether our team is profitting or their team.

so, yeah, there are some deep problems here about voter views of the system and its transparency.

oh--and i'm really glad that jefferson is going down for this. it's super important that the democrats clean house, and this is a very good start.

Now I have read the Venezuela thread, in its entirety

[awkward pause, like when mom found out that my brother and I broke her favorite picture frame while playing a bit too roughly in the house]

From his bio:

"Jefferson is an active and senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and its subcommittee on Trade. He is also a member of the House Committee on the Budget."

You’ll notice it doesn’t say he’s chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or the House Committee on the Budget. You know why that is? Because last year when the FBI raided hs office Pelosi stripped him of his leadership positions.

The Democratic party did it's best to oust him in the primary and run off elections but the people down there don’t much trust outsiders telling them who to elect I guess.

Contrast that with Denny Hastert’s shrieking over the raid on Jefferson’s office and his years’ long cover up of Mark Foley’s scandals. And how about Boehner appointing Ken Calvert to the Appropriations’ Committee when John Doolittle had to step down pending his indictment? Turns out the FBI is delving into Calvert’s records too. Jerry Lewis, House Appropriations ranking member is not long for congress either.

If you’re keeping score at home here's some info for you:

Congress.Org Jefferson's Power Rank Standings

Power Ranking: 439
Power Score: -2.50
Rank in Chamber: 439
Rank in State: 7
Rank in Party: 237
Rank in Class of 1990: 19
Past Power Rankings
2005 Rankings: 412 2006 Rankings: 436

Man he's last in the party and the entire chamber! This guy not only has less pull than any Democrat or Republican but with a -2.50 power rating he could probably cause your bill to spontaneously burst into flames by glancing approvingly at it!

Compare that to 4th ranking Repub Jerry Lewis Power Rank Standings

Power Ranking: 118
Power Score: 19.53
Rank in Chamber: 118
Rank in State: 19
Rank in Party: 4
Rank in Class of 1978: 1

Lewis is probably going to retire next year before he's indicted in the Duke Cunningham - DOD scandal. Like the disgraced traitor Duke - and that's what people who bilk the national security apparatus of the US ought to be considered - Lewis is going to find out that resigning doesn't make much difference to honest feds (but who knows how many of those are left in Gonzales's DOJ?) when it comes to felony charges.

And yet there sits Lewis as ranking minority member on the Appropriations Committee. 4th most powerful Repub and 118th most powerful member in the House.

Why doesn't Boehner force him to step down? LOL, have you seen the Republican House caucus? Replacing Jesse James with Billy the Kid isn't going to curb crime in Dodge City.

Why am I reminded of the contest between Edwin Edwards(D) and David Duke(R) for Governor of Louisiana? Edwin Edwards supportes actually had a bumper sticker that said "Vote for th Crook. It's Important."

About f***ing time. The man was an embarrassment and, frankly, a disgrace. Glad to see him gone, presumptions of innocence notwithstanding.

Not recalling much about Jefferson's opponent last fall, but that also may have some relevance as to why he was re-elected. The last time I was eligible to vote in Philly was in the 1987 primaries, when I voted for the mayor who bombed his own city (Wilson Goode) rather than support the comeback of the mayor ranked 5th worst US Mayor of all time (Frank Rizzo, and his ranking seems unduly generous to me).

If he did the crime, he should do the time.

End of story.

Thanks -

After all the revelations about the politicization of the DOJ, I'm feeling less willing to denounce people as crazy for believing Jefferson might be innocent, and certainly less willing to call people paranoid who wonder why he happened to get videotaped. That said, I'm of course glad that he's been indicted and crossing my fingers that he'll resign.

Steve: all that "presumed innocent until proven guilty" means is that the prosecution has the burden of proof at trial. You can feel free to presume that Jefferson is guilty, whether or not he is found guilty at trial. I still presume that OJ Simpson is guilty, but the jury at his trial disagreed.

Another point. A grand jury only hears one side of a story--the prosecutor's, it does not hear the defendant's side. The purpose of a grand jury is to determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to warrant going forward to a full trial.

"certainly less willing to call people paranoid who wonder why he happened to get videotaped."

He didn't "happen" to get taped; What, do you think he took the bribe at a 7-11, and accidently got caught on the security camera? They knew he was taking bribes, and arranged for it to happen with cameras present and money whose serial numbers had been recorded.

It is an interesting question exactly how they knew. I'm sure that will come out in the trial. I will say, however, that Jefferson was remarkably crude in the way he took bribes, being handed actual physical cash. The usual practice, or so I'm told, is to launder the money through a broker in the form of rigged futures trading, like Hillary did with the cattle futures.

The usual practice, or so I'm told, is to launder the money through a broker in the form of rigged futures trading, like Hillary did with the cattle futures.

If we're going back as far as 1979 to slander a Presidential candidate, shall we discuss how the current President much more explicitly broke the law with insider trading of Harken Energy shares? (Unlike Hillary Clinton, who was explicitly cleared of any wrong-doing in 1979, George W. Bush in 1992 got a SEC memo of "no evidence" which "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result".)

But nice underhand slander, Brett.

You've got a Senator running for your Presidential nomination, who can be easily proven to anybody who isn't willfully obtuse to have engaged in money laundering, and you don't think,

1. It's relevant to a discussion of Congressional bribe taking?

or

2. A problem?

Ooh, explicitly cleared by her husband's Justice department. And that means WE have to ignore the evidence, too.

You've got a Senator running for your Presidential nomination, who can be easily proven to anybody who isn't willfully obtuse to have engaged in money laundering

Er, that was supposed to have happened in 1979.

Do please bear in mind what the 1990s were like.

If it were true that Hillary Clinton had engaged in money laundering in 1979 - especially if it were "easily proven", why wasn't it? Why was this "easily proven" crime ignored all through the 1990s? Got an answer?

And do you think it's relevant, Brett, that Bush was carefully found "not proven" of insider trading when his father was President of the United States, and that when Bush was campaigning for President, a Republican judge made sure he didn't have to testify in a corruption case being brought against SCI? (The case failed. In a gruesome not-at-all-coincidence, SCI became one of the big winners after Katrina, awarded a contract to "clean up" the bodies of the drowned.)

Relevant, Brett?

"Why was this "easily proven" crime ignored all through the 1990s? Got an answer?"

Several.

1. Through most of the 1990's the Justice department was her husband's. Prosecuting the President's wife is not a high priority.

2. Indeed, prosecuting anybody high up in politics for corruption is not a priority of the Justice department, unless they get REALLY sloppy about it. Like Jefferson did. There's substantial evidence that insider trading and money laundering are endemic in Congress... That, or being elected to federal office magically endows you with mad stock trading skills. But who gets nailed? The guys who keep bundles of cash in their freezer.

3. There's a difference between it being obvious that OJ is a murderer, and being able to prove it in court. Hillary's cattle future trades were all structured to leave no records, so barring the broker who handled her account deciding to rat on her, there's no way to prove in court that it was money laundering, no matter how obvious it is that beginner's luck in futures trading doesn't last most of a year, at which point you suddenly decide to stop making money hand over fist.

You know, this perfectly illustrates why our politics are becoming so corrupt: We're developing partisan filters that shut off our reasoning skills the moment any partisan salience enters the picture. It's Democrats saying Bush is incompentent? He must be genius! It's Republicans saying the Clintons are sleazes? Most ethical administration in history!

Through most of the 1990's the Justice department was her husband's. Prosecuting the President's wife is not a high priority.

*blinks* Obviously, we were living through totally different 1990s, then. Brett, I hate to break this to you, but I believe you may have moved into a parallel universe. I suggest that you do what all sensible paranauts do: go look up the relevant Presidents in a good encyclopedia and find out what is different between your native universe and ours.

We're developing partisan filters that shut off our reasoning skills the moment any partisan salience enters the picture.

Yes: jokes about parallel universes aside, I think that's exactly the problem. You want to believe Hillary Clinton's a crook, so you ignore the fact that there was nothing quite so thoroughly investigated as the Clinton finances during the 1990s. You don't want to know that Bush is a crook, so you ignore all the evidence that he was engaged in insider trading back when he was the failed businessman of the Bush family, and that he helped cover up at least one nasty financial deal when he was governor of Texas, neither of which he was ever called to account for.

Maybe I should have said "happened to get investigated" rather than "happened to get videotaped". What I'm referring to is suspicion about how targets are selected. Maybe it's true that the only person in the House who's accepting bribes (or accepting them so blatantly) is a black guy, but I'm not going to declare people unreasonable for wondering about it. I think feelings about Marion Barry were similar.

"Through most of the 1990's the Justice department was her husband's. Prosecuting the President's wife is not a high priority."

It's such a shame there wasn't any way for the Justice Department to launch an probes of, or investigations of, or make use of the Special Counsel law in regard to, the Clinton White House.

If only that could have happened, and the Clintons' tight control over DoJ, which prevented that from happening, hadn't existed!

But, alas, the Clintons and the Democrats controlled Congress through his terms, and there were never any investigations. Who knows what they might have found, if allowed to investigate?

But we all know how history played out.

Ah, so you DO believe that beginners' luck in futures trading can last most of a year, at which point somebody who's made $1000 into $100,000 will suddenly decide to just quit while they're ahead. And you believe this despite the fact that using a broker to assign winning trades to one person, and losing trades to another is a standard money laundering technique. And despite the fact that the trades were structured in just the non-reportable fashion you'd expect if for money laundering. And despite the fact that legitimately achieving a rate of return like that would make Hillary one of the most brilliant futures traders in history.

That's the sort of idiocy people swallow when partisanship gets in the way of reasoning.

"You don't want to know that Bush is a crook, so you ignore all the evidence that he was engaged in insider trading back when he was the failed businessman of the Bush family, and that he helped cover up at least one nasty financial deal when he was governor of Texas, neither of which he was ever called to account for."

So, Bush is a crook. Oh, God, my worldview is crumbling!

Not. And he didn't get prosecuted, did he? Ergo it never happened, per your reasoning in the case of Hillary, right?

Like I said, corruption almost never gets prosecuted in high level politicians, unless they get really sloppy. So the fact that they don't get prosecuted is no reason to deny the evidence that they're guilty.

KCinDC: I believe that he was targeted because someone he was hitting up for a bribe went to the Feds.

Brett: That's the sort of idiocy people swallow when partisanship gets in the way of reasoning.

Brett, as I said: in this universe, the Clinton finances, both Hillary's and Bill's, were thoroughly investigated. The Republican party were, throughout Clinton's Presidency, trying to find something criminal in the background of the President and the First Lady. Only someone from a parallel universe - or someone who had spent 1991-2000 living in a barrel - would claim that Hillary Clinton could be guilty of a crime "easily proven to anybody who isn't willfully obtuse" that she is supposed to have committed in 1979.

So, Bush is a crook. Oh, God, my worldview is crumbling!

Well, Brett, if it doesn't matter to you that Bush is definitely a crook, why does it matter to you that (as, coming from a parallel universe, you apparently believe) Hillary Clinton could have been proven to be a crook had the Republican Party ever had the majority in Congress during her husband's term in office, with the ability to appoint an Independent Counsel to investigate her. In your universe, evidently, this didn't happen. Now you're in this universe, I suggest you begin by googling Ken Starr.

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