OPINION: Lott opens up about Pickering’s problems

JACKSON – Remember Trent Lott, the guy Mississippians for 32 years sent to occupy a seat in both ends of Congress? Hasn’t been heard from lately as he narrowly skirted being caught up in criminal cases involving his wealthy lawyer brother-in-law and a Hinds County judge who became a hero in the 1990s for bringing to justice the assassin of civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers.
Well, Trent has broken his uncommon silence by giving a revealing interview to Biloxi Sun-Herald reporter Michael Newsom by phone from Lott’s new lobby diggings in Washington.
Republican Lott stunned Mississippi’s political landscape in December two years ago by announcing his resignation from the U.S. Senate for rather nebulous reasons, thinly masking his real intention to get into big-time Washington lobbying with his old Senate sidekick, John Breaux, the Louisiana Democrat. Breaux-Lott Leadership Group is now a going concern with heavyweight clients.
More newsworthy to us back here in Mississippi is what Lott had to say in his lengthy interview that touched directly on the extramarital scandal of his protege, ex-Congressman Chip Pickering. He also talks about judicial bribery cases involving his wealthy brother-in-law, jailed lawyer Dickie Scruggs, and deposed Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter.
DeLaughter is yet to be sentenced to federal prison after copping a plea of obstruction of justice for his handling of a legal fee case against Scruggs.
In Newsom’s interview, Lott went straight to tying Pickering to the Washington C Street Christian Fellowship house address prominently mentioned in national news as a focal point in extramarital scandals involving Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign and Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
That Pickering lived at the C Street house came to light in an alienation of affection lawsuit filed in Hinds County by his estranged wife, Leisha, against Chip’s alleged girlfriend, Beth Creekmore Byrd, of Jackson, whose family owns Cellular South, the big telecommunications company, of which she is a board member.
Obviously Lott took seriously Leisha’s contention that Chip consorted with Creekmore while living at the C Street house during weekdays in Washington before coming home on the weekends to see her and their five teenage sons.
Trent was critical of those who, after elected to Congress, leave their family back in their home state and live in Washington on weekdays. “When you leave your family somewhere other than where you are, trouble is going to come,” Lott said.
He noted that the practice of Congressmen leaving their families at home began in the late 1980s and 1990s under then House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the controversial Republican who later was driven out of office in 1998 after it was revealed he had an affair with a staff member.
“That (leaving the family at home while living in D.C. on weekdays) was a huge mistake” Lott declared, adding: “that’s one of the things that is wrong with Washington now.” Asked if he had talked to Pickering since his extramarital affair became public in July and if Chip asked for advice, Lott said he had just called him “to say I was sorry about all this … it was just a courtesy call.”
Lott’s name became involved in the DeLaughter debacle for allegedly dangling a Federal District court nomination in front of the Hinds County judge at a time DeLaughter was considering a $17 million legal fee dispute case brought against Scruggs. In the interview, Lott denied that he knew DeLaughter personally or that he was seriously considered for the federal court job. He said he had one conversation with DeLaughter (apparently at the request of his brother-in-law) but always intended to recommend (now judge) Sul Ozerden for the Southern U.S. district post.
The former senator did say that the U.S. Attorney’s office in North Mississippi had talked to him about the DeLaughter matter and that he “told them everything that went on so far as I am concerned.” No charges have been made against Lott involving DeLaughter.
The Hinds County Circuit Judge as an assistant district attorney gained national prominence in the 1990s when he brought Byron De La Beckwith to trial for the 1963 assassination of civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers, 40 years after trial juries twice deadlocked on Beckwith’s guilt. DeLaughter won a conviction and Beckwith, then in his 70s, was given a life sentence. Beckwith since has died.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215. Send e-mails to Minor through edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor

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