What's the Cure for Corrupt Politicians?

Rep. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was indicted earlier this week by a federal grand jury on charges of bribery and other corruption. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr. (known as Scooter Libby), was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to federal investigators about the part he played in uncovering the identity of a CIA officer.

The indictment against William Jefferson accuses him of bribery, racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, obstruction of justice and other offenses. (See The New York Times article here.) The judge in the Libby case said the evidence against him was "overwhelming" and that Libby "got off course" while working at the White House. (See the Washington Post article here.)

What drives public servants like Scooter Libby and William Jefferson toward corruption, and how can it be prevented? Do some politicians gorge on power and then work as if they're above the law?

Politicians sometimes get blinded by the power associated with their jobs, forgetting their main mission is to serve the public, the people whose taxes pay their salaries.

It's a vice displayed by Republicans and Democrats alike, one that needs to be confronted. Part of the responsibility falls on us, the voters, to change things. And while there's no easy solution, we can make a start by voting in greater numbers and keeping track of what our politicians are doing--in Washington, in our state capitols and in our cities.

Details of William Jefferson's Indictment

According to The New York Times, the Jefferson indictment said he pursued bribes from almost 12 companies involved in oil, communications, satellite transmission, sugar and other businesses, frequently for Africa-based projects. Jefferson used his congressional position, as a member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, to promote the companies’ business ventures but didn't reveal his own financial stake in the deals.

The indictment says Jefferson illegally engaged in official activities to help himself and his family financially. He led official delegations to Africa, sent letters to American and foreign officials, and assigned members of his staff to promote ventures in which he had financial interest, according to the indictment, which says he worked to promote deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.

The Origins of Scooter Libby's Downfall

The New York Times says Scooter Libby's downfall started four years ago, when the columnist Robert D. Novak revealed the name of Valerie Wilson, whose husband, former diplomat Joseph D. Wilson IV, publicly aired doubts about the Bush's administration's reasoning for the war in Iraq.

The disclosure of Wilson's name to Mr. Novak may have been a crime, but no one was ever prosecuted for that offense, and Libby's statements to federal officials led to his demise.

Libby said he learned Wilson's identity from reporters; several subpoenaed reporters said Libby told them, not the other way around.


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