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Johnny Cash sang about it. Congress members avoid it. Ask Me Anything is back!
On January 13, 2022, I wrote a piece on Johnny Cash and how awesome he was.
Folsom Prison Blues was written in 1953 but didn’t become the iconic song until many years after Cash visited and performed at the prison.
Cash lived a complicated life, but he advocated for the poor, the Indigenous people, and the prisoner.
Prisons are pretty popular in some regards.
Seinfeld’s final episode featured the cast being thrown in jail. Orange is the New Black was a smash hit about a woman who was arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison. The Shawshank Redemption is on television almost daily, showing us how Andy Dufresne tunneled his way to freedom after being wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.
The United States Capitol used to have rooms used as prisons, but they referred to them as guard rooms. There are a few newspaper reports that people were held in guard rooms off and on, beginning with the inauguration of Andrew Jackson in 1829, and the last story occurred in 1899.
Congress can hold people in contempt of Congress when they refuse to respond to a subpoena. Eric Holder became the first sitting Attorney General held in contempt of Congress during the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. Funny thing, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the Department the Attorney General leads, refused to prosecute and later cleared him of any charges, so what exactly is the point?
Technically there is no jail in Congress, although the Capitol Police had a holding cell at their headquarters on D Street, a place I visited when I needed to get permits to have pictures taken with Anonymous on our wedding day on the grounds.
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Last month, a longtime subscriber, ECM, asked if President Trump was ABOVE THE LAW, and I found out that unless you live in South Korea, there isn’t much hope in delivering justice to the government’s chief executive.
But what about the legislature?
George Santos, if that is, in fact, his real name, is the United States Congressman from New York’s 3rd District. Santos invented an entire life story while bouncing checks and introducing himself at Republican gatherings with different aliases. He was indicted on 13 counts, which included fraud and wearing a sweater under your suit jacket in the spring.
What’s awesome about Santos is his refusal to resign and determination to seek reelection next year. In the meantime, I don’t believe he has one committee assignment, but I’m sure he wanders the halls of Congress and drops in on hearings that interest him. He wears glasses, so perhaps he thinks no one sees him.
But his recent indictment has brought back the idea of punishing those representing us. Can we as a country Make Sending Congresspeople to Prison Great Again?
My sister-in-law, Lauren V., wanted to know. You remember, Lauren. She is very interested in what members of Congress are doing.
This time she would like to know:
When was the last time a sitting member of Congress was arrested and put in jail?
It’s an excellent question.
My first thought was, have we arrested a Congress member before?
Well, duh, the answer is yes – of course we have. Congress is made up of 535 people, there will be a few of them who break the law, and as long as they are lower-level representatives or senators, we can hope they will be fitted for jumpsuits.
But to Lauren’s question, we only have to go back one year. In 2022, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was indicted on three federal charges for lying about accepting illegal foreign contributions to his campaign. What’s great about this indictment procedure was how Jeff announced the investigation to get ahead of the fallout.
He climbed into the cab of his pickup truck, stuffed his wife and dog inside along with him, and told the world the FBI just visited his home and searched the place. They asked him a bunch of questions about a billionaire from Africa and money he had donated to Fortenberry’s campaign.
Jeff was shocked to learn that this guy had contributed about $30,000 through straw donors, basically made-up people, who then gave to the Congressman’s campaign in hopes that there wouldn’t be a paper trail because it is very, very illegal to receive money from foreigners when running for public office in the United States.
He told everyone he planned to fight. Right after he got out of his truck.
Federal prosecutors sought prison time while the defense team mounted testimonials from his wife, a priest, a high school friend, and presumably his dog. In the end, a jury found him guilty, and the judge in the case sentenced him to two years of probation and a fine of $25,000.
The judge said the 64 testimonials, along with his age and education, pointed toward probation rather than prison, according to sentencing records he must have found on Reddit.
After twenty years of service, Jeff was forced to resign but got to keep his pension as a thank-you for his service.
So it’s not exactly prison.
For that specific example, we go back a few years to 2016, when Pennsylvanian Democratic Congressman, Chaka Fattah, was convicted of bribery, money laundering, fraud, racketeering, and a bunch of other stuff.
Fattah was committing these crimes all the way back to 2007 when he tried to repay a loan from his unsuccessful campaign for Philadelphia’s mayor. He didn’t make a video, even though his wife is a news anchor, and the quality would have been pretty good.
Crime runs in the Fattah family because, at the time of his convicted, his son, also named Chaka Fattah, had begun serving a five-year sentence for bank and tax fraud. To show the son that Fattah is a worthy father, the judge, in this case, doubled his sentence to ten years.
The judge must not have read the same Reddit threads on sentencing because Chaka and Jeff were the same age at the time of the indictments.
Chaka resigned from Congress, had his case overturned on appeal, then had the counts reinstated, and was sentenced again to ten years, which began in 2019. But not to worry, Chaka walked out eleven months later.
I don’t have much hope that George will spend many days behind bars if convicted.
Johnny Cash was a believer in rehabilitation over punishment. In the 1960s, the penal system in the United States was a dumpster fire. Recidivism was rampant, and prisoners were abused, living in poor conditions, and even murdered.
He used his celebrity to push prison reform to the highest leaders in the United States and testified before the Senate. He even met with President Nixon. He shared stories of abuse but also offered solutions, much of which we still debate today, especially when dealing with juvenile crime.
He made people care through the power of his music.
I wonder what song he would sing today about politicians who never go to prison or only stay a short while.
Okay, I hope this helps, Lauren V. Thanks for another question utterly unprompted by me! If you think Congresspeople should serve time in prison for committing crimes regardless of age or education, please hit the like button at the bottom.
If you have a question that needs to be answered, just email me here. (My firstname.lastname@example.org is not working at the moment.)
One quick announcement.
Today is my 25th anniversary of moving to Washington, DC, from Ohio. I want to thank my brother, @MDDake, who helped facilitate the move back on May 19, 1998. Despite the roller coaster of events that have shaped my life, it's easily been one of the best decisions ever.
I’m grateful for the experience of living in the nation’s capital and the friendships I have made. I can’t wrap my head around 25 years.
Man, I’m old.
In celebration, I’m still offering a discount to become a paid subscriber. As a thank you for supporting my work, you will receive access to Even More History and can read My Chat with Alexander Hamilton.
Thanks for supporting Okay History. Have a great weekend, stay out of jail, and I’ll see you on Monday when we all are a little bit older.