The Louisiana Democratic Congressman caught on FBI surveillance tapes taking $90,000 in cash has been selected by the Democratic Congressional caucus to lead a delegation from Capitol Hill on a tour of New Orleans next week to "join in prayer with the people of the region, to reflect and remember." Jefferson has denied any wrongdoing in a case that sparked controversy when the FBI searched his Capitol Hill offices. The cash was discovered in a freezer in Jefferson's home.
"To pick somebody who's clearly having problems is insensitive," says Ken Boehm, Chairman of the National Legal Policy Center, a political ethics watchdog group, "I suppose if Representative Cunningham could get out of federal prison, they could have him lead the tour." Ironically, Katrina victims will likely remember a previous Jefferson tour of New Orleans when he commandeered a National Guard escort to check on his own home and save his belongings while residents clung to rooftops awaiting rescue, as first reported by ABC News National Correspondent Jake Tapper. Several days after the storm hit, Jefferson asked the National Guard to take him on a tour of the flooded portions of his congressional district. A five ton military truck and a half dozen military police were dispatched. National Guardsmen later told ABC News that Jefferson asked the truck to take him to his home on Marengo Street in an affluent uptown neighborhood. Water was up to the 3rd step, and the vehicle pulled up onto Jefferson's front lawn so he wouldn't have to walk in the water. Jefferson spent about an hour inside the house while soldiers waited outside.Jefferson defended the expedition, saying he set out to see how residents were coping at the Superdome and in his neighborhood district. He also insisted that he did not ask the National Guard to transport him but that they did so of their own accord for "safety" reasons.
"The classic saying is, 'Congressmen live in a bubble,' and...in this case, it's true," says Boehm. "They don't interact with the public enough to have a real sense of about how the public feels about these types of corruption charges."You can read Jake Tapper's blog on ABCNews.com.
ABC News' Rusty Lutz and Rhonda Schwartz contributed to this story.