Congressman William Jefferson Convicted in Bribery Case

William Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted by a jury today on 11 of 16 counts of an Indictment, including bribery, racketeering and money laundering. He was acquitted on five counts including wire fraud and obstruction of justice. The backstory:

The backstory: In 2007, Jefferson, was charged on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The government alleged that Jefferson used his congressional office to help promote business projects in western Africa in return for payments for his family. The most vivid evidence put on display: that feds found in Jefferson’s freezer $90,000 stuffed in Boca Burger and pie-crust boxes.

Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout argued at trial that Jefferson’s behavior was perhaps unethical and even stupid but not criminal. “To make something that isn’t criminal into a crime, ladies and gentleman, that is power,” Trout told jurors.

Over the objections of the prosecutor, Jefferson's bond was continued until sentencing. According to the prosecutor, Jefferson's sentencing guideline range could be more than 20 years.

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    Rove did it. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 06:10:15 PM EST

    I'd like to defend this guy but the money (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by vicndabx on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 06:37:39 PM EST
    in the fridge just makes it too difficult.

    Actually (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Cards In 4 on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 09:52:24 PM EST
    in LA the amount in his freezer is considered chump change for a politician.  Huey Long must be rolling over in his grave.  The Morial family is laughing all the way to the bank.

    Long would have made sure the money was kept by some flunky so it could never be tied to him.  With inflation Long wouldn't mess with anything less than 7 digits today.

    I mean really, for LA Jefferson was keeping petty cash in his freezer.


    Actually (none / 0) (#4)
    by Steve M on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 07:42:40 PM EST
    the money is often what makes it possible to get a good defense... :)

    You made a mistake (none / 0) (#2)
    by bocajeff on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 06:28:43 PM EST
    You have him being a Democrat. That can't be right. Although he is a Southerner, so maybe he is a dumb, Christian redneck. Wait, he's African American so he's probably a friend of Michael Steele and Clarence Thomas.

    Fridge makes it difficult, not impossible. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Mitch Guthman on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 08:46:45 PM EST
    I didn't follow the trial very closely but personally, I think Jefferson was toast no matter what and deservedly so.  There's a reason his nickname is "Dollar Bill" and he's had that name for a long time----ever since I can remember.  

    The money in the fridge made it difficult but not impossible.  Same with the wire.  You have to attack it, you have to attack the prosecution.  If I were doing it, I'd have pushed hard on Bush era politically motivated prosecutions, Karl Rove's history of interfering in criminal matters, something along those lines, lots of pols doing worse---how come they got a pass?  Karl Rove?  You've got to shift the focus from Jefferson being a crook (which he undeniably is) to somebody or something else.  Race isn't going to work in that courthouse but maybe "politically motivated hanky-panky" might.  

    It gives you lots to work with in opening, lots of avenues in cross (without foreclosing more conventional lines of questioning), lots to push the prosecution on and keep them on the defensive. I think it had more potential than anything else and much more than the technical crap they pushed.  The political stuff might have given them an opening which would have made the technical stuff more interesting and important---I'm not saying dump it, just give it some sex appeal.

    Also, political defenses gives you lots and lots of excellent pre-trial stuff if the Gov't (quite rightly) tries to shut down those lines of attack in pre-trial.  All kinds of hot button stuff that might easily connect with a Virginia jury----maybe turn around some of that conservative pro-prosecution bias and make it work for you, if you hit some lucky breaks.  

    All of which really makes me wonder why he hired this particular firm (best known as guys who plead people guilty, but with style) to represent him if he didn't intend to plead guilty.  They're not even really fixers, just a firm that's got a line of practice of pleading people guilty in various Washington scandals. I'm not saying they don't have good, experienced lawyers but clearly they've got a built-in conflict with their clients.  Namely, the firm wants to stand in good with Main Justice and the FBI because they have a practice which involves scandals---but for the client, it's strictly a one-time thing.  All he cares about is his case---not being able to be the "go to firm" in future scandals.

    If I was on trial for, essentially, my life I'd hire the best trial lawyer in Virginia (really good, really local, really connected in Virginia) or I'd import somebody from New Orleans like Frank DeSalvo who maybe could maybe humanize me with the jurors or get their attention by being a little bit different, a little bit Yat, and an aggressive trial lawyer.   I sure wouldn't want somebody more concerned with staying on the prosecution's good side so as not to mess up future guilty pleas.

    I have ten trillion dollars in my desk (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 08:55:57 PM EST
    What's it to you?

    good luck on that mitch. (none / 0) (#8)
    by cpinva on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 09:56:22 PM EST
    my guess (as a non-lawyer, and who doesn't play one on tv), none of what you suggest would ever make it in front of a jury, absent concrete evidence to support it. if you kept bringing it up, after being told not to by the judge, you'd probably be looking at sanctions.

    that (literally) cold, hard 90k in the freezer would be a tad hard for even the most sympathetic of juries to overlook, unless he could prove he won it at vegas or the track, and reported it. i'll go out on a limb, and suggest he didn't and couldn't.

    no great loss to the democratic party.

    If you play, then you should play to win. (none / 0) (#9)
    by Mitch Guthman on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 11:35:13 PM EST

    Yes, the $90K in the freezer is very bad.  What was on the wire was less catchy but arguably even more damming. But I can't count the number of cases when the prosecutors have coasted into trial assuming that the tape of the drug deal or video of the police beating is all they need and then getting a "not guilty" because the defense finds a way to attack and neutralize that unbeatable piece of evidence.  Rodney King? John Delorean?   Video tapes clearly showed him with a suitcase of cocaine referring to it as being pure gold and smiling a great big smile but he walked nonetheless.  

    I remember a police case where the prosecution had tapes of a patrolman offering to protect drug shipments and commit other crimes.  It was all on tape.  Absolutely killer evidence.  At trial, he testified that he was really conducting his own (unauthorized) undercover investigation into narcotics trafficking.  He walked, too.

    Would I rather be the defense or the prosecution holding that killer piece of evidence? Sure, this kind of stuff is very damming evidence and you would naturally expect a guilty verdict.  My point, however, is that there is no such thing as the ace of trumps in a criminal trial.   A trial is like that Kenny Rodgers song about how "every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser".  Long odds, sure.  Every trial is an uphill battle for the defense.  But still, anything can happen and sometimes does.

    As to whether evidence about persistent, widespread, aggressive high-level political prosecutions by the Bush administration would be admissible in the absence of specific indications in Jefferson's case, my answer is:  Probably not.  Depends on the judge.  Depends on how skillfully the government responds----if the response is to just clam up and the defense is aggressive and skillful in advocating it's position, that's going to give  lots of judges something to think about.  Given what we're learning about the Bush Justice Dept., can you say with absolute certainty that the prosecution of any Democrat was not politically motivated? How can anyone be sure?   Don't forget that starting on the first day of law school, lawyers are taught to reason from the general to the specific.  Even if the judge says no pre-trial, the defense can still push in was that won't trigger contempt and if the courtroom dynamic starts heading in the right direction, maybe you'll plan a seed with at least one juror, maybe the judge will have second thoughts and give you a bit more latitude---and on we go!

    More to the point, there's no point in going to trial if you aren't going to push back against the government's case.  Putting the cops or the government on trial is a time-honored defense tactic and it was probably Jefferson's only hope.  Whether you're nasty or nice, if the verdict comes back "guilty" in this kind of case the government's going to ask for the max and the judge is going to go along with them 90% of the time.  So, what I was pointing out is that Jefferson would have had a better chance with a fighting lawyer who doesn't really need to be BFF with the prosecutors because he probably won't do anything except try cases----but the lawyers Jefferson chose have a much different perspective.  Jefferson is only one client.  They don't want to be shut out of the next big scandal or high profile case because good relations with the important people at Justice is their stock in trade.

    I just don't see what the point of this trial was.  I understand they were dealt a bad hand in terms of venue (a prime issue on appeal, I would guess). But it looked like a slow plea of guilty.  Looking at the technical defense they used, and admitting that I wasn't there and don't knew all that went into the case, I just have a feeling that somewhere in the back of Trout's mind he kept hearing a little voice saying "be careful, don't rock the boat".