Former Rep. William Jefferson’s lawyer tried a novel defense tactic in his closing arguments yesterday: putting all of the political class on trial. Sure, his client had stashed bribe money in his freezer—but hasn’t everyone, metaphorically speaking? “We all occupy the gray area,” said attorney Robert Trout. “We’re all going to make mistakes.” He acted as if trying to bribe the vice president of Nigeria “was tantamount to exceeding the speed limit,” writes Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.
Trout then showed a helpful chart. On one side he’d written “CRIME.” On the other the words “recklessness, negligence, and mistakes,” sat above a picture of a man shrugging. Sure Jefferson had tried to persuade foreign governments to back his family’s businesses, but that’s “something to be expected of our members of Congress.” Heck, Jefferson never even proposed earmarks or corrupt legislation. Finally, voice trembling, he implored the jury to acquit because “democracy is you.”