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."
Jackson, who has made no secret of his desire to occupy the Senate seat, hired an attorney and called a Capitol Hill news conference to address "rumors and reports" that he was part of an illegal attempt to win the governor's favor.
According to the federal affidavit, Blagojevich on Dec. 4 told an adviser: "We were approached 'pay-to-play,' that, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise $1 million if I made [Candidate 5] a senator."
The same day, Blagojevich allegedly told his top fundraiser that he was "elevating" Candidate 5 on the list of possible Senate picks. He said he was due to meet the candidate in a few days and may be able to get something "tangible up front."
Blagojevich instructed the fundraiser to pass the word that if Candidate 5 wanted the job, "some of this stuff's gotta start happening now . . . right now . . . and we gotta see it. You understand?"
In a word of caution at a moment when he knew federal prosecutors were investigating his administration, Blagojevich also told the fundraiser: "I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone."
Jackson told reporters that "I reject and denounce pay-to-play politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing. I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf."
Recently elected to his eighth term from Chicago's South Side, Jackson said he met with Blagojevich for 90 minutes on Monday -- the day before the governor's arrest -- to discuss his qualifications for the Senate appointment. He promised to cooperate "fully and completely" with federal investigators.
Jackson said the U.S. attorney's office told him on Tuesday that "I am not a target of this investigation." A spokesman for that office declined to confirm or deny that assertion.
Before Jackson met with reporters in Washington, his attorney, James Montgomery Sr., held a news conference to say that Jackson "has made no illicit approach to the governor."
"Politicians and fundraisers do some funny things from time to time," he said. "I wouldn't put it past someone to claim they were representing Congressman Jackson."
Federal investigators, who rushed to charge Blagojevich this week to prevent him from allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder or forcing the resignation of a Chicago Tribune editorial writer, are scrambling to fill out their case with testimony and evidence.
The FBI has recordings of Blagojevich, taken from bugs in his campaign office and a wiretap on his home telephone. As one source put it, there are "a lot of people to talk to, to check out on the other side of a lot of conversations."
Patrick Collins, a former public-corruption prosecutor who helped convict Blagojevich's predecessor as governor, George Ryan (R), said the prosecution has 30 days to obtain a grand jury indictment. He said the tapes and other materials presented in the criminal complaint will not be enough to prove in court that Blagojevich, Chief of Staff John Harris and others they spoke with intended to break the law.
"They have to develop evidence beyond a reasonable doubt," said Collins, who is now in private practice. "They need financial records, they need phone records, they need witness testimony. They need insiders in the Blagojevich camp to say, 'I had this conversation and I was the emissary.' "
Bob Greenlee, one of Blagojevich's deputies, resigned Wednesday. It remained unclear whether Greenlee was the person identified in the affidavit as "Deputy Governor A," who allegedly discussed with Blagojevich a series of schemes to line the governor's pockets.
The secretly tape-recorded discussions revealed the governor's plan to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment, his attempt to squeeze campaign cash from a children's hospital executive, and his vow to appoint himself to the Senate if others are "not going to offer anything of any value."
Staff writers Kari Lydersen in Chicago and Carrie Johnson, Paul Kane and Anne E. Kornblut in Washington contributed to this report.