Court rebuffs bribe-taking Congressman

A federal magistrate rejected efforts by a Louisiana congressman, the subject of a bribery investigation, to keep potentially embarrassing documents under seal.

Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents New Orleans, is the target of a probe that has already resulted in guilty pleas by two associates. Jefferson has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

The documents are scheduled to be unsealed Thursday, but that will be delayed if Jefferson or someone else appeals the ruling.

Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout, declined to comment Tuesday.

The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly, issued Monday, unseals a search warrant affidavit filed in August for the Potomac, Md., home of Jennifer E. Douglas, the wife of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Court documents from the cases involving Jefferson’s associates indicate that Jefferson lobbied high-level government officials in Nigeria, including the president and vice president, on behalf of a Kentucky technology firm that paid bribes to the congressman.

The judge’s ruling indicates that part of what will be unsealed is discussions between Jefferson and a cooperating witness who was “wearing a wire while engaged in face-to-face meetings with the congressman.” The existence of the cooperating witness _ a northern Virginia investment company executive _ had been previously disclosed.

Connelly’s ruling is also the first to explicitly name Jefferson. Previous court documents had referred only to “Representative A,” though it was apparent from details that it was Jefferson.

The Washington Post moved to unseal the document. Jefferson argued that it would be an invasion of privacy and that disclosure of the affidavit could taint a jury pool if he is charged.

But Connelly said the public’s right to access outweighs Jefferson’s right to privacy, noting that “Congressman Jefferson is a public servant and his conduct in the discharge of his official duties is a matter of great public interest.”

In January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, saying Jefferson demanded money from the cooperating witness. Last week, Vernon Jackson, chief executive of iGate Inc., a Louisville, Ky., telecommunications firm, pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for the congressman’s help obtaining business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

© 2006 The Associated Press