July 3, 2009
WASHINGTON — The purpose of the four-hour dinner that William Jefferson shared with Lori Mody on May 12, 2005, at Galileo, one of Washington’s finest restaurants, was ostensibly to talk money, as befits a meal that ended up costing the FBI $1,023.15.
The amount of Jefferson’s equity share in Mody’s Nigerian venture was the main item on the official agenda.
But, according to excerpts of tapes, which were secretly recorded by Mody for the government and released Thursday by Jefferson’s defense team, it was about much more.
It was about trust and loyalty and human frailty. It was about fathers and daughters, about Jefferson’s pride in his five grown girls — “the best thing I did right” — and Mody’s advising Jefferson that perhaps in him, she had found a man with a rare combination of intellect and “street smarts,” a man she could trust like no one since her father.
And it was about a most unexpected moment of bonding between the congressman with the hardscrabble past, now standing trial for corruption, and the wealthy businesswoman whose recordings threaten to send him to prison. It came when he launched into a reminiscence of how when his daughters were young, “Every night it was a story . . .”
“When your children were younger, and you read stories to them, what’s their favorite book you read to them?” Jefferson asked Mody.
” ‘The Velveteen Rabbit ,’ ” she replied.
“You just stop,” Jefferson said. “That’s my favorite damned . . .”
And with that Jefferson and Mody launch into a rhapsodic duet about the poignant Margery Williams tale of a stuffed animal that is given life by a little boy’s love.
Mody: “I love that book. Is that a great book?”
Jefferson: “I love that.”
Mody: “I love that book.”
Mody: “Definitely ‘The Velveteen Rabbit .’ I think that book says so much about life, you know?”
Jefferson: “Goddamn. I swear to Christ, that’s my favorite all-time book.”
Jefferson then proceeded to retell the story of the velveteen rabbit , about how the boy “loved . . . all the hair off of him,” and how a good fairy made him real.
“That’s my favorite goddamn book,” said Jefferson, who then chastised himself aloud for not having professed his love for “The Velveteen Rabbit ” earlier, lest Mody think him insincere.
“No, I believe you,” Mody said. “You’ve got the whole story to back it up.”
At which point Jefferson, apparently satisfied, asked her to help him distinguish the goat cheese from the blue at their table.
“Without glasses,” he said, “I can’t even see the damned cheese.”
Mody played on his sympathies, according to the defense briefs, exposing her vulnerabilities and beseeching him to “demonstrate his loyalty . . . by increasing his share of the deal.”
“I feel like you’re with me, but I want you to feel certain that you’re with me,” she said.
“That’s why I’m here tonight instead of on a plane,” he said. “I believe in this deal. I believe in you. I think we can work together. Flat-out simple as that.”
And then, over a light pasta course, Mody said, “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, you know stare — trying to stare into the depths of your soul here, but I — I just need to know that you are here with me, that’s — that’s all.”
“You have to believe that,” Jefferson said.
“Intellectually, I want to; emotionally, I want to; spiritually, I want to. I’ve just been so mishandled so . . . ” Mody said.
“I understand,” Jefferson said.
“You know?” said Mody. “In this, in this arena, I’m afraid of my own shadow. You have to understand that.”
“OK,” said Jefferson. “but I’m telling you, Lori, I’m telling you, I’m in a business where loyalty is everything. You can’t sue people over lying to you in politics.”
The government does not plan to call Mody as a witness. The jury has heard her described as “crazy” and “volatile,” prone to disappear unaccountably.
The defense has suggested that Mody was entrapping Jefferson with entreaties of trust.
“I trust what you say,” she said. “I trust the advice you give me. I trust the direction you pointed me. I — I trust our — our, you know, business, partnership, what you call it. I trust all of that. I trust the role you’re playing with me. You’re playing — you know, I — the only thing I don’t trust is everybody else, but I’d be lying if I said that trust is 100 percent. I mean, you know, how — how does it ever get there?”
At one point in their $1,000 dinner, Jefferson lost the thread of their conversation: “Well, I think — um, what the hell was I saying again? I think I’m drinking too much wine.”
Throughout, Jefferson, whom Mody called “Mr. Discreet Secret,” was cagey when the talk came to money.
At one point, when Mody was pressing the question, he excused himself to go to the bathroom.
After he returned, Mody apologized “if I put you on the spot.”
She was, of course, putting Jefferson on tape.
“You think I ran away?” Jefferson asked. “I ran to the bathroom because I had to pee, to be crass about it, to be quite open about it, it’s what happened.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mody said. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m an old man, and I had to go and pee,” said Jefferson. “OK?”
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