U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, convicted Tuesday of corruption charges, has submitted a letter of resignation from Congress to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In a statement released late Wednesday night, Fattah said he wants to remain in the House until Oct. 3 — the day before he is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court.
Fattah said he selected that departure date to “provide enough time to ensure the proper transmission of information and archiving of government documents after more than two decades in service.”
“With that said, in further consultation with House Leadership, we are working to identify an agreeable timeframe which will relieve the House of any distractions in carrying out the people’s business,” Fattah said in a statement issued late last night. “I hold the institution of the Congress of the United States in the highest regard and am thankful for the privilege to have served.”
Ryan had called Wednesday for the veteran lawmaker’s immediate resignation.
Ryan, who said the 11-term congressman had betrayed the trust of the House and his constituents, also called on Fattah’s fellow Democrats to urge him to step down right away.
“Mr. Fattah has betrayed the trust of this institution and the people of Pennsylvania, and for that he should resign immediately from the House of Representatives,” Ryan wrote in a statement. “We must hold members to the highest ethical standard, and I hope that Democratic leaders will join me in seeking his immediate resignation.”
Technically, Fattah can remain in office until the end of his 11th and final term. House ethics rules bar him from voting on legislation, but he could still provide constituent services.
Still, legal experts earlier Wednesday predicted the mounting pressure on Fattah to resign sooner rather than later — pressure from his colleagues in the House, but also local party officials and civic leaders in his district.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell called for Fattah’s resignation during an interview with CBS radio.
“Any time any public official is found guilty of corruption charges, it’s a very difficult thing for me because it casts aspersions on all politicians. People are fond of saying, ‘well they’re all crooks, but of course we’re not all crooks,” said Rendell.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stopped short of calling on Fattah to leave, and instead, told reporters that Fattah’s constituents deserve a representative with the power to vote.
Day of reckoning
For nearly a year after his indictment, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah called the federal corruption charges filed against him “frivolous,” a “smear.” He fiercely maintained his innocence and predicted complete exoneration.
Tuesday was a day of reckoning.
After 14 hours of deliberation, a Philadelphia jury convicted Fattah on all counts, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.
The guilty verdict rocked the city’s political landscape — from lawmakers to voters. Fattah is one of the city’s longest-serving and most powerful congressmen, and he’s well regarded by a constellation of lawmakers and constituents.
“He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. And very few elected officials do that,” said longtime resident Greg Paulmier. “To have him trip at the height of his ability to make things happen and help our community is hard.”
West Philadelphia ward leader Gregory Spearman is deeply concerned about what message Tuesday’s verdict will send to voters in the 2nd Congressional District, which additionally includes parts of North and Northwest Philadelphia, as well as most of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County.
Apathy and distrust are already such big obstacles.
“There’s a strong core of people that view politics negative. This only gives fuel to that argument,” said Spearman.
The government told jurors that Fattah led a criminal enterprise that went on a “white-collar crime spree,” stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer and charitable dollars along the way.
Fattah was convicted of taking an illegal $1 million loan for his failed bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007; accepting bribes from a wealthy friend who wanted to become a U.S. ambassador; using campaign cash to pay off some of his son’s college loan; and trying to steer federal grants to a fake environmental nonprofit to settle up with a political consultant.
Four co-defendants were convicted alongside Fattah, including a former deputy mayor and the former chief of staff for his district office in Philadelphia.
For Mt. Airy committeewoman Marilyn Lambert, the verdict was welcome news.
“Fattah knew what he was doing, continued to do it, and thought he would get away with it. That, to me, is just inexcusable,” said Lambert.
In a statement, Fattah said the case’s “outcome isn’t what we had hoped,” adding that he was proud of his accomplishments in Congress.
‘Substantial’ jail time expected
Even before the trial, Fattah’s days in Congress were numbered. He lost April’s Democratic primary to state Rep. Dwight Evans.
And veteran prosecutor George Parry said there’s little Fattah can do at this point to get a more lenient sentence come Oct. 4, when he’s scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle. The charges are just too severe.
“That’s kind of like trying to lock the barn door after the cow has escaped. He’s already done his damage,” said Parry.
White-collar litigator John Pease of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia would tend to agree, but he added that Fattah does have an opportunity to help himself, particularly during his sentencing hearing when he’s given the chance to address the court directly. If, he said, Fattah takes responsibility for his crimes and shows genuine remorse.
“I think Judge [Harvey] Bartle is going to be looking for more than just Congressman Fattah did a lot of public good and accomplished many things during his long tenure in Congress. Those are things the public expects all of its public officials to do,” Pease said.
“It’s my expectation that the court will want to understand directly from the defendant what his views are about the conduct here that led to this conviction.”
The charges filed against Fattah carry maximum sentences of 10, 20 and 30 years. Parry said he expects Fattah to get “substantial” jail time, possibly five to 10 years behind bars.