Scandal-ridden Democratic Congressman won’t guit

U.S. Rep. William Jefferson said Monday he will not resign in the face of a federal investigation that has netted two guilty pleas from people who implicated him in a bribery scheme.

Jefferson, a Democrat in his eighth congressional term, declared his innocence during an afternoon news conference outside the federal building in New Orleans.

“I would take full responsibility for any crime that I committed, if that were the case. But I will not plead guilty to something I did not do, no matter how things are made to look and no matter the risk,” Jefferson said, reading from a statement.

He took no questions and dispelled rumors that he was announcing his resignation. “Far from it,” he said, “I have come to declare, among other things, my continued intention to serve.”

Jefferson said if indicted he was “prepared to answer these charges formally when and if the time comes.”

Jefferson said he felt compelled to discuss the situation because he believed his constituents deserved to hear some response to recent publicity about the case.

He said the guilty pleas, made in federal court in Virginia, came from friends who succumbed to enormous pressure from the federal government.

“In order to protect themselves, they have now characterized their relationship with me, or with my family, in ways that fit neatly within the government’s mistaken legal theories,” he said.

In January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, saying Jefferson demanded money in exchange for help in brokering two African telecommunications deals.

Two weeks ago, 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.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Jefferson should be investigated by the House Ethics Committee in light of the second guilty plea in the case.

© 2006 The Associated Press