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Democratic congressman denies bribery charges

Jefferson: 'I have never intended to dishonor my office'
Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, said "I have never intended to dishonor my office."


New Orleans (Louisiana)
Democratic Party
William Jefferson

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- A Louisiana congressman at the center of a federal corruption probe told constituents Monday that he is innocent and will stay in office while fighting any charges brought against him.

"I wish to say emphatically that in all of my actions that are here under scrutiny, that I have never intended to dishonor my office, or you, the public, and I certainly did not sell my office," Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, told reporters.

His decision to address the controversy comes nearly two weeks after a Kentucky businessman pleaded guilty to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to an unnamed congressman, identified by several sources as Jefferson. Vernon Jackson, 53, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Jefferson's involvement in telecommunications deals in Africa and elsewhere. (Full story)

Jefferson has consistently denied wrongdoing and said Jackson mischaracterized their relationship, but told supporters in his hometown of New Orleans that his indictment is a strong possibility.

"It will be only through a tortuous process that my family and I will be able to re-establish the truth. In this, we ask for the patience, if not the support, of the public," he said. He added, "I am prepared to answer these charges formally when and if the time comes."

The Justice Department said Jackson gained Jefferson's help in promoting his company, which develops high-tech equipment, and won a contract with the U.S. Army. A former Jefferson aide, Brett Pfeffer, also pleaded guilty in January to bribery charges related to the inquiry.

The cloud over Jefferson comes as Democratic leaders have been attacking what they call a "culture of corruption" surrounding the Republican leadership in Congress. With midterm elections looming, Democrats are trying to highlight GOP ties to the influence-peddling investigation that centers on disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and last year's guilty plea of California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-year stretch for taking bribes from defense contractors.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean told ABC News last week that Jefferson should resign if indicted. But Jefferson said previous congressmen have kept their seats while battling criminal charges.

"They stayed in Congress and continued to do their jobs with the support of their people, as I am now continuing to deliver for the people of the district that I have been privileged to represent for nearly 16 years," he said.

Jefferson's heavily Democratic district includes most of New Orleans and large parts of suburban Jefferson Parish. In his statement, he said he is saddened by friends who "have succumbed to the enormous pressure that the government has brought to bear."

But he insisted he has done nothing wrong, and he criticized leaks by unidentified law enforcement sources, urging federal prosecutors "to refrain from this process of death by a thousand cuts."

"Unfortunately, the government seems inclined to view the facts in the worst possible light, and to characterize events that could be explained, or are exculpatory, in ways that tend to incriminate me," he said.

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