By: David Noack
Instead of answering reporters’ questions about a $50,000 gift from a felon, a Florida
congresswoman filed a harassment complaint. The U.S. attorney’s office has thrown it out.
TWO ST. PETERSBURG Times reporters have been cleared of charges that they harassed a congresswoman by asking her questions in the corridor of her Capitol office building about her alleged ethics violations.
In May, the two ? Times Washington bureau chief David Dahl and staff reporter Bill Adair ? asked Rep. Corrine Brown about the $50,000 Lexus LS 400 her daughter accepted as a gift from an associate of West African millionaire Foutanga Sissoko. The Jacksonville, Fla., Democrat ducked the questions ? and then filed a complaint with the U.S. Capitol Police, accusing the journalists of conspiring to impede a member of Congress, a crime punishable by up to six years in prison. In addition, she requested and received police protection and contacted House officials about revoking the reporters’ press credentials.
The House Ethics Committee is looking into allegations ? contained in a series of stories by Adair and Dahl ? that Brown accepted the Lexus for her daughter from Sissoko, a convicted felon and friend she tried to free from prison. According to GOP sources cited in the Capitol newspaper Roll Call, the committee is also investigating charges that Brown illegally accepted $10,000 from a secret bank account controlled by Rev. Henry J. Lyons, a National Baptist Convention U.S.A. leader who is charged with racketeering. Brown has denied any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Brown’s daughter, Shantrel, acknowledged that the Lexus was purchased last year by Karim Pouye, Sissoko’s chief financial officer, and given just months after Rep. Brown lobbied to keep Sissoko out of federal prison after he pleaded guilty to bribing a customs officer. Shantrel Brown has since sold the car and said the money will go to the African Methodist Episcopal Church scholarship fund.
According to a June 9 affidavit filed by the Capitol Police, Brown accused the reporters of “threatening and intimidating” her.
Times managing editor Neil Brown said
the congresswoman’s criminal complaint was “a tactic to avoid answering questions. . . . I do not believe for a minute that David Dahl or Bill Adair were anything but professional, polite and conducted themselves in a completely proper manner.”
After investigating the charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia dropped the case. “It did not meet the standards for federal prosecution,” spokesman Channing Phillips told E&P last week.
When asked about the case, the congresswoman’s office faxed a statement saying, “It is unfortunate that the civil rights movement in this country must always prove itself ? even defend itself when no defense should be necessary.”
But the feud didn’t end there. At a press conference last week in Jacksonville to explain the $10,000 check she received from Baptist leader Lyons, who is accused of federal money laundering charges, Rep. Brown refused to answer questions from Times reporters and instead blasted the Times:
“As long as I am member of the U.S. Congress, I will never respond to the St. Petersburg Times. They have distorted, misled and purposefully deceived their readers,” she said.
?(Times Washington bureau chief David Dahl (above, left) and reporter Bill Adair asked a member of Congress about a car given to her daughter, and ( right) the story) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http: www.mediainfo. com ) [Caption]
?(Copyright: Editor & Publisher August 1, 1998) [Caption]