FBI Evidence Against Blagojevich Puts Jesse Jackson Jr. Under Heat of Spotlight

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
Saturday, December 13, 2008

CHICAGO, Dec. 12 -- Just a week ago, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. seemed confident that the U.S. Senate was within his reach, maybe soon. Of the many contenders for President-elect Barack Obama's former seat, Jackson was the boldest about talking up his chances.

On Monday, in a session to bring the prize closer, he met for 90 minutes with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Chicago Democrat and the man with the sole authority to choose Obama's successor.

Not 24 hours later, FBI agents arrested Blagojevich on public corruption charges. And now Jackson finds himself fighting to preserve his hard-won reputation, his immediate Senate dreams almost certainly gone and his hopes of political advancement in jeopardy.

No evidence has emerged of criminal wrongdoing by Jackson, who has been identified as "Senate Candidate 5" in the criminal complaint filed Tuesday. The affidavit outlines secretly taped conversations where the governor said an "emissary" from "Senate Candidate 5" offered at least $500,000 in campaign contributions to secure the post.

Jackson said the U.S. attorney's office has told him he is not a target of the investigation. He has pledged to cooperate in the blockbuster corruption investigation that has stunned a state all too familiar with political misdeeds.

A 76-page FBI affidavit filed to support felony charges against Blagojevich, however, shows that the governor seemed to believe that people loyal to Jackson might be prepared to raise as much as $1.5 million for him in exchange for his giving the seat to Jackson.

"We were approached 'pay-to-play,' that, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand," Blagojevich said on Dec. 4 as FBI agents secretly listened. "An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise $1 million if I made [Candidate 5] a senator."

The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that businessmen who favored Jackson's appointment to the Senate discussed raising at least $1 million for Blagojevich's campaign coffers.

A major Blagojevich fundraiser named Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi told people about the fundraising idea at an Oct. 31 meeting that Blagojevich attended, the Tribune reported.

The meeting led to a Dec. 6 fundraising gathering in suburban Elmhurst, two days before the governor's meeting with the congressman. Nayak was a sponsor of the event and Blagojevich attended, as did Jackson's brother Jonathan Jackson, the newspaper said.

Telephone calls to Nayak, Bedi and the Jacksons on Friday were not returned. A Jackson spokesman told the Tribune that Jackson spoke with Nayak about his interest in the Senate seat, "but he never asked him to do anything."

Jackson, the son of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the Chicago-based civil rights leader, hired a lawyer and called a news conference Wednesday to protest his innocence. He said he had "no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing."

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