In Public Service: Jeffries calls for House hearings on Comey

Congressman says FBI director’s Clinton letter deserves scrutiny

November 3, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries says FBI Director James Comey parachuted into the presidential election and dropped “a bomb on Hillary Clinton.” Photo courtesy of Jeffries’ office
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The move by FBI director James Comey to send a letter to congressional leaders on Oct. 28 informing them of the agency’s plans to review newly discovered emails that might pertain to Hillary Clinton’s email controversy was unprecedented and should be scrutinized by the House, according to U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

Coney’s letter was issued 11 days before the Nov. 8 presidential election in which Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein will face each other at the polls.

“It was unprecedented for the FBI director to come parachuting into the presidential campaign and dropping a bomb on Hillary Clinton,” said Jeffries (D-Coney Island-Canarsie-parts of Queens), a Clinton supporter.

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Trump has seized upon the Comey bombshell as proof that voters shouldn’t trust Clinton, and there are signs that the new development is hurting the former secretary of state in pre-election polls.

“The democratic process has been hurt” by Comey’s actions, Jeffries told the Brooklyn Eagle in a phone interview.

“The director shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind his desk in a building named after J. Edgar Hoover,” he said, referring to the fact that the FBI’s headquarters in Washington D.C. is named after the late Hoover, the longtime and controversial FBI director.

“The director owes the American people an explanation,” said Jeffries, who is calling for congressional hearings into the matter. “He should come before the House Judiciary Committee to explain himself,’ he said.

Jeffries is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Jeffries represents the Eighth Congressional District, a district that includes parts of several neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, Mill Basin and Coney Island, as well as South Ozone Park and Howard Beach in Queens.

He won the seat in 2012.

Prior to his election to Congress, Jeffries served for six years in the New York State Assembly, where he sponsored more than 70 bills that were signed into law, according to his official biography on the House’s website.

Jeffries was born in Brooklyn Hospital and was raised in Crown Heights. He attended public schools and is a graduate of Midwood High School.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Binghamton and holds a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University.

He attended New York University School of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude and served on the Law Review.

After law school, Jeffries served as a clerk for Hon. Harold Baer Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He later practiced law Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. He also worked at Godosky & Gentile, a litigation firm in New York.

Throughout his political career, Jeffries has never shied away speaking out on controversial issues.

One of the issues he is focused on is finding solutions to the city’s lack of affordable housing.

“We have an affordable housing crisis in Brooklyn and we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to solving it,” he told the Eagle. The federal, state and city governments “must all become focused on affordable housing,” he said.

Jeffries defined affordable housing as housing in which the rents are inclusive enough to accommodate low income New Yorkers, working families and moderate-income individuals.

It is difficult today for a married couple “to afford to live in large parts of Brooklyn,” he said.

Jeffries said that when New Yorkers have to spend disproportionate amounts of their income on rent, “it leads to a decline in discretionary income for people to spend in their communities.”

That has ramifications, according to Jeffries. “It undermines the economic vitality of small businesses,” he said.

But all is not lost, he said, adding that there actually are solutions to the affordable housing crunch.

One solution involves set-asides.

In cases where a developer is constructing multi-unit housing and is receiving federal funding for the project, the developer should be obligated to set aside 50 percent of the apartments as affordable units, he said. In addition, people living in the neighborhood should have first crack at the new affordable units, he said.

Another solution is for the federal government to increase its financial investment in public housing, he said.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has “long been ignored” by the federal government, Jeffries charged. As a result, “the city has been forced to shoulder an increasing part of the burden,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban (HUD) has oversight responsibility over NYCHA but the federal government’s commitment to the city’s housing agency has declined, he said. “It’s time to reverse that trend,” he said.

Affordable housing is a topic Jeffries hears about a lot from his constituents. The congressman conducts a series of “Congress on Your Corner” events throughout the district during the spring and summer. The topic of affordable housing frequently comes up. “It doesn’t matter which part of the district I’m in,” he said.

The affordable housing crisis was a long time in the making, Jeffries said. He blamed the Republican administrations of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Under the two Republican mayors, the city concentrated too heavily on constructing luxury condo buildings instead of building middle class housing, he said. “During the 20 years prior to the de Blasio Administration, the focus was on creating luxury. Gentrification was unleashed,” he said.

The trend toward luxury housing continues to this day, he said. “People are being pushed out of their neighborhoods,” he said.

Jeffries wants the state Legislature to change the state’s rent stabilization law to eliminate vacancy de-controls. Under his plan, a landlord would not be able to take an apartment off the rent stabilization program.

Affordable housing isn’t the only problem Jeffries thinks has reached crisis proportions.

The congressman is also concerned with the country’s criminal justice system, which he said needs major reforms.

Prisons are overflowing and many of the inmates are low-level drug offenders, according to Jeffries, who said the inmates and the country would be better served if they were in drug treatment programs.

“Take a look at the U.S., for example. We have five percent of the world’s population but we have 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated individuals. This is a stain on our democracy. It is part of our failed war on drugs,” he said.

Jeffries said mandatory sentences should be looked at. “I would increase judicial discretion,” he said. Judges should be able to impose sentences based on the individual merits of the case, he said.

Alarmed at the spate of shootings by police of unarmed black men in recent years, Jeffries said it has resulted in a high level of distrust of police in minority communities. “We must strengthen relations between the police and the community, particularly in neighborhoods of color,” he said.

Policies such as stop and frisk and the so-called “broken windows” theory of policing, in which low level offenses are treated aggressively have “aggravated the tension,” Jeffries said.

“We need aggressive law enforcement that also has a healthy respect for the individual,” he said.

Jeffries has confidence in Police Commissioner James O’Neill, the city’s new top cop. “We have an opportunity to hit the reset button,” he said.


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