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Indicted congressman steps down from House panel

Story Highlights

• Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson leaves House Small Business Committee
• Jefferson was indicted Monday on corruption charges
• Jefferson: Resignation from committee doesn't mean I'm guilty
• He's alleged to have taken more than $500,000 in bribes, sought millions more
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Louisiana congressman William Jefferson on Tuesday requested temporary leave as a member of the House Small Business Committee, a day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on a raft of corruption charges.

Jefferson asked to step down, pending the "successful conclusion" of the "legal matter," in a letter to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Nancy Pelosi of California.

"In doing so, I, of course, express no admission of guilt or culpability in that or any other matter that may be pending in any court or before the House of Representatives," Jefferson wrote.

"I have supported every ethics and lobbying reform measure that you and our Democratic Majority have authored, and I make this request for leave to support the letter and the spirit of your leadership in this area."

It is Jefferson's only committee assignment. His Democratic colleagues had appointed him to the Homeland Security Committee earlier in the year -- a move that outraged some GOP members -- but the nomination was never voted on by the full House of Representatives.

Bribery, laundering, obstruction allegations

Federal prosecutors Monday alleged that Jefferson took more than $500,000 in bribes and sought millions more, using a network of family companies to conceal the money.

The 95-page, 16-count indictment came nearly two years after federal agents reported finding $90,000 in a freezer in Jefferson's Washington home. It accuses him of racketeering, money laundering, obstruction of justice and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. (Read the text of the indictment in PDF)

"Mr. Jefferson corruptly traded on his good office and on the Congress, where he served as a member of the United States House of Representatives, to enrich himself and his family through a pervasive pattern of fraud, bribery, and corruption that spanned many years and two continents," said Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, where the charges were brought. (Watch U.S. attorney detail charges Video)

After Monday's announcement, House Minority Leader John Boehner said he would push to have the indictment referred to the House ethics committee, which launched an investigation of Jefferson last year.

Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, also said he plans to demand the panel recommend within 30 days whether Jefferson should be forced to leave Congress.

"If the charges against Congressman Jefferson are true, he should be expelled from the House of Representatives, or he should resign to spare his constituents and colleagues any further indignity," Boehner said in a written statement.

Boehner is pushing to bring a motion to the floor by Tuesday night.

Jefferson maintains his innocence

Jefferson is scheduled to make his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Alexandria at 9 a.m. Friday, Rosenberg said.

The nine-term New Orleans Democrat maintains his innocence and was elected to a new term in a December runoff despite the allegations.

The investigation already has led to guilty pleas by a Kentucky businessman and a former Jefferson aide.

Jefferson's homes in Washington and New Orleans were raided in August 2005. The following May, investigators raided his Capitol Hill office, sparking a furor among congressional leaders who said the search violated the Constitution's separation of powers.

Defending the 2006 search, investigators disclosed in court documents that they had found $90,000 in cash in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington home -- part of a $100,000 payment delivered by an informant in the bribery investigation, according to federal agents.

Jefferson is accused of receiving the cash in one of 11 bribery schemes prosecutors said they had outlined during the two-year investigation. Though Rosenberg initially estimated the congressman's alleged take at nearly $400,000, prosecutors later said he received more than $500,000 and sought millions more.

Rosenberg said Jefferson had solicited a bribe from the informant in December 2004 "while in a congressional dining room in Washington, D.C."

He said Jefferson asked for a 5 percent to 7 percent share of a company the cooperating witness controlled, which would go to a relative of the congressman.

In return, he said, Jefferson offered to use his office to promote the company's joint venture in Nigeria, and met in July 2005 with someone Rosenberg described only as "a high-ranking executive branch official from Nigeria."

The money that turned up in his freezer was supposed to go to the Nigerian official, and Jefferson had told the cooperating witness that he had delivered "the African art" to that official days before his home was raided, Rosenberg said.

But in Los Angeles, the congressman's lawyer, Robert Trout, told reporters the indictment fails to show that Jefferson "promised anyone any legislation" in exchange for bribes.

"There is no suggestion that he promised anyone any appropriations. There were no earmarks. There were no government contracts," Trout said.

He said Jefferson is ready to fight the charges and maintains his innocence.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, said he was leaving the committee "in the light of recent developments in a legal matter."



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