The Situation: Thursday, May 4
Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.
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The Morning Grind
Posted: 10:30 a.m. ET
The House narrowly approved a reform measure Wednesday designed to better police lawmakers' interactions with lobbyists, on the same day a businessman pleaded guilty in federal court to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to a Congressman.
Government sources confirm the Congressman in question is Rep. William Jefferson (D-Louisiana). Jefferson maintains he is innocent and has not been charged in the case, CNN's Terry Frieden reports. But businessman Vernon Jackson has agreed to help investigators probe Jefferson's activities related to telecommunications deals.
"As I have previously stated, I have never, over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected," Jefferson said in a statement released by his lawyers. "I am confident and am trusting God that this simple fact will be established in the proper forum, as I am innocent in the matter to which Vernon Jackson has pled guilty."
While Jefferson is never referred to by name, government sources confirm that it is indeed the Louisiana Democrat who Jackson alleges to have paid to help promote his company iGate Inc. and help make it eligible for federal contracts.
Jackson is the second person to plead guilty in the investigation of the Louisiana Democrat. Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, acknowledged bribing the Congressman earlier this year.
While fellow Democratic Rep. Allan Mollohan's (West Virginia) real estate dealings have come under scrutiny of late, it is the Republican Party that is bearing the brunt of corruption allegations in the halls of Congress. Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-San Diego) is now serving jail time after admitting to accepting bribes from a defense contractor. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will soon resign from Congress, after he acknowledged polling showed he faced a difficult re-election campaign in November. DeLay is fighting charges that he broke Texas campaign finance laws, and three of his associates: disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two former aides have pled guilty in the high profile Congressional lobbying scandal. Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) continue to battle allegations that they were improperly involved with Abramoff.
The House approved the lobbying reform legislation by 217-213 vote that was largely along party lines, CNN's Deirdre Walsh reports. All but eight Democrats voted against the bill, and the critics argued that it does not adequately address the corruption problems in Congress. A Democratic alternative was defeated.
"When the energy companies write the energy bill, we have gasoline that costs $3 a gallon; when pharmaceutical companies write the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, we have a bill full of giveaways to cronies, but nothing for America's seniors; when lobbyists write the lobbying reform bill, we end up with a ruse that winks at reform and does nothing to curtail the culture of corruption," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said.
Pointing to the latest development in the Jefferson investigation, Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), questioned why Democrats would vote against the lobbying reform measure.
"It is disappointing and very symbolic that Democrats would vote against lobbying reform on the same day that the feds learn that a Democratic Member was bribed," Bonjean told the Grind.
The House passed bill suspends privately funded travel for Members of Congress and their staffs for the remainder of the year, requires lobbyists to disclose more information and makes it more difficult to acquire federal funding for pet projects. A bill suggested by Hastert in January would have prohibited all lobbyist-funded travel and gifts, and doubled the time period required for members of Congress and senior staff who leave Congress to become lobbyists from one to two years. The House and Senate must now work out differences before Congress approves a final bill to send to President Bush for his signature.
While DeLay stepped away from a November match-up against former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) for the right to represent the 22nd District, the Texas Republican is not ceding space to his political rival. The day after Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) -- the only active member of Congress to fly-in space -- and members of the aerospace industry held a fundraiser for Lampson, the Grind learned that DeLay is slated to address the Space Transportation Association next week. With the Johnson Space Center located in Houston, NASA is big news in that area. And DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said he will continue to be a leading voice for Bush's call for space exploration.
"Congressman DeLay has proven to be an effective leader for the space community and is going to continue promoting the President's vision whether it's with a vote or his voice," she told the Grind.
Bush speaks at a 9:15 a.m. ET ceremony on the "National Day of Prayer" and at 10:20 a.m. ET he meets with the President of Uruguay. The President then makes 1:45 p.m. ET remarks on Cinco de Mayo and at 7 p.m. ET speaks to the American Jewish Committee's Centennial Dinner.
On the Hill, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) holds a 10:45 a.m. ET on-camera briefing in the House Radio-TV Gallery; Pelosi was scheduled to speak about human rights in China to the Laogai Research Foundation at 8:30 a.m. ET and she accepts an award from the Minority Business Roundtable Congressional Leadership Summit at a 3:45 p.m. ET in the Capitol; and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) joins Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) in his office at 12:30 p.m. ET to talk about immigration reform.
Today, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a supplemental appropriations bill that has already drawn a veto threat from Bush, because he charges it is bloated with excessive spending requests.
Political Hot Topics
Posted: 10:30 a.m. ET
MOUSSAOUI GETS LIFE: A federal jury rejected the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui on Wednesday, with some jurors concluding that he played only a minor role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The verdict, calling for life in prison, seemed to surprise most people in the courtroom, notably Justice Department prosecutors who had relentlessly urged the jurors that Mr. Moussaoui should be executed for his role in the attacks. Jurors left the courthouse without speaking about their reasoning. But the verdict form they filled out indicated what factors they had considered as they decided Mr. Moussaoui's fate, including his troubled upbringing in a dysfunctional immigrant Moroccan family in France, and extended periods in orphanages. New York Times: Moussaoui Given Life Term by Jury Over Link to 9/11
BUSH REMARKS ON VERDICT: President Bush said Wednesday a federal jury that spared the life of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui did "something that he evidently wasn't willing to do for innocent American citizens." Bush declined to say whether he was satisfied with the jury's decision to reject the death penalty in favor of a sentence of life imprisonment. The government had sought the death penalty. The president commented on the case during a brief question and answer session in the Oval Office. He also issued a written statement in which he said the verdict "represents the end of this case but not an end to the fight against terror." AP via Yahoo! News: Bush Says Moussaoui Case Over, War Goes On
HOUSE PASSES LOBBY RULES IN TIGHT VOTE: The House narrowly approved ethics legislation yesterday that would expand the amount of information that lobbyists must disclose about their interactions with lawmakers and would also rein in big-money political groups that spent heavily in the last presidential election. By a vote of 217 to 213, the House agreed to require lobbyists to file quarterly instead of semiannual reports, to include in those reports donations they give to federal candidates and political action committees, and to make public gifts that they give to lawmakers or congressional aides. In addition, spending bills would have to list any narrow-interest projects, called earmarks, that they contain, as well as the sponsors of those projects. Washington Post: House Lobbying Rules Call for More Disclosure
WILL $4/GALLON BE A WAKE-UP CALL FOR CONSERVATION? As Congress moved Wednesday to approve legislation responding to high gasoline prices, energy experts said there is not much lawmakers can do in the short run to bring down the stratospheric prices at the pump. Analysts said a measure approved by the House on Wednesday to strengthen penalties on gasoline price-gouging would do little, if anything, to affect gas prices. It is not clear much price-gouging is going on, they said, even as oil companies are making record profits... Most experts agree that, geopolitical events aside, the only way for Americans to reduce gas prices in the short run is to cut consumption significantly. And history suggests consumers are unlikely to do that until pump prices approach $4 a gallon or more. Chicago Tribune: The $4 gallon of gas
PANDEMIC PLAN... "SHOW ME THE $$$": The Bush administration's pandemic flu action plan, issued Wednesday, is a good step toward getting the nation ready for a 1918-style flu disaster, health experts say, but it's missing a key element: how to pay for it. The plan acknowledges that the response to a pandemic could exceed the financial resources of government agencies, says Jeffrey Levi, director of Trust for America's Health, a public-health advocacy group. The plan cites President Bush's $7.1 billion funding request for preparedness, but Levi says it doesn't address how to pay for services that would be needed after a pandemic hits. No one knows when or where a flu pandemic could begin, or how severe it might be. The federal government is not making predictions but is planning for the worst-case scenario: a pandemic like the one in 1918, which killed more than 500,000 people in the USA. USA Today: Bird flu plan lacks a key detail
FLOTUS COOL WITH SPANISH NATL. ANTHEM: Laura Bush has a knack for making it known when she doesn't agree with her husband. But on the subject of belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, it's not clear whether the first lady is in President Bush's camp or not... Asked her opinion on Wednesday in an interview with CNN's John King, Mrs. Bush said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with singing it in Spanish." She noted that "we are a nation of many, many languages" and that the country has already heard many versions of the anthem "like at the Super Bowl." AP via Yahoo! News: Anthem in Spanish Doesn't Faze First Lady
KY BUSINESSMAN ADMITS TO $400K IN BRIBES TO JEFFERSON: Federal authorities ratcheted up their case against Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, on Wednesday when a Kentucky businessman admitted in court to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to a bogus company controlled by the congressman's wife and family in exchange for official favors. Vernon L. Jackson's guilty plea is the second in the case since January, an investigation into what prosecutors describe as Jefferson's four-year-long scheme to promote a small technology company in the United States and in Africa for secret monthly payments and a share of the company's stock and profits. Jefferson has not been charged and said Wednesday he was "surprised and disappointed" by Jackson's plea. He again denied ever taking improper payments for performing his public duties and said in a statement that "this simple fact will be established in the proper forum as I am innocent." New Orleans Times-Picayune: Kentucky business man says he paid $400,000 in bribes to Jefferson's family
DEMS MUM ON JEFFERSON OUSTER: House Democrats will not publicly call on Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to leave office, despite a guilty plea in federal court on Tuesday by Vernon Jackson, a Kentucky businessman who allegedly paid Jefferson and his family more than $450,000 in bribes. Behind the scenes, Democratic insiders said that everyone from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down would love to see Jefferson resign from Congress, although they won't make an open declaration about Jefferson because of internal party politics. Among other things, the Democratic leadership does not want to alienate the Congressional Black Caucus by calling for Jefferson's ouster. Roll Call: Democrats Won't Push Jefferson
GOP AMMO FOR NOVEMBER: House Republicans portrayed congressional corruption as a bipartisan problem yesterday after a business executive pleaded guilty in federal district court to bribing a Democratic lawmaker... Republicans hope questions about Democrats' conduct will undermine the minority party's claims that the GOP is responsible for a "culture of corruption" in the Capitol. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) used the headline "Culture of Hypocrisy" to link to a story about the plea deal from its website yesterday. The Jackson plea deal, coupled with ethical allegations about Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), have given Republicans political ammunition to fire back at Democrats. The Hill: Bribe plea gives GOP Nov. ammo
ROMNEY WOULD EXPLAIN FAITH JFK-STYLE: Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, often questioned about how his Mormon faith would affect a potential presidential run, said Wednesday he envisions mimicking John F. Kennedy and explaining his religion to the public. The Massachusetts governor said he imagines a speech evolving out of inevitable curiosity about his faith and its potential impact on presidential decision-making. He has already said that while his religious beliefs are integral to his life, they do not unduly influence his political judgments. "I think if I decided to go national that there will probably be a time when people will ask questions, and it will be about my faith, and I'll have the opportunity to talk about the role of religion in our society and in the leadership of our nation," Romney said. Kennedy, then a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, took the same approach in September 1960 when he was attempting to become the first Catholic president. AP via Yahoo! News: Romney to Address Mormon Faith if He Runs
McFARLAND AIDE ACCUSES SPENCER OF "BIGAMY": The pitched battle to be the Republican challenger to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has turned nastier, with the campaign manager for Kathleen Troia McFarland, who is struggling to get on the primary ballot, accusing her opponent, John Spencer, of bigamy. In an NY1 News interview on Tuesday, Edward J. Rollins, a top aide to Ms. McFarland, spoke of Mr. Spencer's personal history and his record as the mayor of Yonkers, dredging up marital infidelity and accusing him of nepotism. Mr. Spencer has never denied that while he was mayor, he had a long affair with his chief of staff while he was married, and had two children with her before they were married. "He runs around saying, 'I'm a good Catholic, I'm this, I'm that," Mr. Rollins said, adding that to "a lot of Catholics in this state, that's bigamy." Mr. Spencer was not married to both women at the same time. New York Times: An Ugly Turn in the Race to Oppose Mrs. Clinton
ANGELIDES RECORD "A STUDY IN CONTRASTS": Two distinct pictures of Phil Angelides, a Democrat running for governor, emerge from his record as state treasurer. There is the Angelides who campaigned in Santa Barbara for coastal protection -- and the one who took $143,200 in campaign checks from developers who, over Sierra Club objections, bulldozed the Dana Point Headlands to build 118 oceanfront houses. There is the Angelides who crusaded for higher ethical standards in corporate boardrooms -- and the one who said it was none of his business that a securities firm had hired friends as consultants to grease its way into state bond deals, a practice now banned by regulators. There is the Angelides who mocked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for treating the state like an "all-you-can-eat special-interest buffet" -- and the one whose campaign accepted $574,000 from law firms he hired to be state bond counsel. Los Angeles Times: Phil Angelides' Record Is a Study in Contrasts
SONS STAY HOME, DAD TIES: You're both grounded! Two voting-age sons of a northern Ohio candidate didn't go to the polls Tuesday, and their father's race ended in a tie. William Crawford, trying to retain his seat on the central committee of the Erie County Democratic Party, and challenger Jean Miller each received 43 votes in the primary balloting. Officials plan to conduct a recount, but the race may have to be settled by coin flip, said David Giese, the county's Democratic Party chairman and an elections board member. Crawford was able to laugh about it Wednesday, but he said his sons are going to be getting an earful for skipping the election. "Oh they will, let me tell you," Crawford said.AP via Yahoo! News: Ohio Candidate's Sons Cost Him County Race
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