Obama Urges Blagojevich to Resign; Jesse Jackson Jr. Denies Wrongdoing

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. denies any wrongdoing in connection with the Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich charges in a press conference. Video by AP
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008

CHICAGO, Dec. 10 -- In the wake of the most brazen Illinois corruption case in years, President-elect Barack Obama and the entire Senate Democratic caucus called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign Wednesday, while Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. said he did nothing wrong in seeking a Senate appointment from the governor.

Jackson (D-Ill.) said that he may be "Senate Candidate 5" in the 76-page affidavit filed Tuesday in support of corruption charges against Blagojevich but that he had "no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing."

The criminal complaint quotes the Democratic governor as saying that an emissary from Candidate 5 had offered to raise $500,000 for Blagojevich's campaign treasury. Jackson said at a news conference that "I never sent a message or an emissary."

Barely 24 hours after FBI agents led him away in handcuffs, Blagojevich returned to work in his downtown Chicago office without speaking to reporters and without giving any indication of his plans.

His refusal to step aside in the wake of the allegations that he sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama led to blunt calls for his ouster from Chicago and Springfield to Washington.

All 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter urging Blagojevich to quit immediately and allow his successor to appoint Obama's replacement. If the seat goes unfilled, they fear, it could prove difficult to produce 60 votes to prevent a filibuster on Obama's economic rescue package.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) also warned that the Senate leadership may not seat anyone Blagojevich picks because the new senator "would be under a cloud of suspicion."

Robert Gibbs, the incoming White House press secretary, said Obama thinks Blagojevich should step down because "under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois."

Obama thinks the Illinois General Assembly should take control of the issue "and put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois," Gibbs said.

Not waiting for Blagojevich to act, Illinois legislators began drafting a bill to strip the governor of the authority to name the new senator. They are expected to meet in Springfield on Monday to approve a special election to fill the final two years of Obama's six-year term. State House leader Michael J. Madigan (D) and State Senate President Emil Jones Jr. (D) expect approval within days. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said of the measure: "There appears to be widespread sentiment that this is the only option that Illinois has to fill that vacancy."

Yet, in a sign of the complexity of a situation in which Blagojevich stands accused but not convicted, the bill to strip the governor's authority could not become law without his signature. If he remains in office, he could approve the bill, veto it, send it back to the legislature or do nothing for 60 days.

"I urge you to search your heart and summon the strength to put your state and your nation above any personal considerations," Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote in a letter to Blagojevich, who was captured on FBI tapes declaring that he would base his selection of Obama's successor on "our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation."

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