By Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
CHICAGO. Dec. 16 -- Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) told federal investigators that Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked for a $25,000 campaign contribution during Blagojevich's 2002 run for governor and may have exacted retribution when the money did not arrive, a political source close to Jackson said Tuesday.
After Blagojevich (D) won, he considered and rejected Jackson's wife, Sandi, for the job of state lottery director, the source said.
Later, the governor saw Rep. Jackson at an event in Washington and, according to the source, told him he bet Jackson regretted not paying up.
The allegation surfaced as a special impeachment committee of the Illinois House of Representatives in Springfield began to investigate Blagojevich's conduct in the wake of his arrest by FBI agents last week on public corruption charges. Blagojevich signaled that he intends to battle for his job.
"He's not stepping aside. He hasn't done anything wrong. We're going to fight this case," Ed Genson, Blagojevich's attorney, declared as he prepared for a Wednesday appearance before the bipartisan impeachment committee.
The 21-member committee aims to make a recommendation by mid-January, when the General Assembly next convenes. Members of both chambers said Tuesday that they expect a Senate trial and an effort to remove Blagojevich if he does not quit.
As long as Blagojevich clings to power -- an aide said he signed 11 bills into law this week -- lawmakers think the state's severe budget crunch will remain unresolved and President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat will go unfilled.
"Running a state is a hard thing to do," said state Rep. John A. Fritchey (D). "Running a state in an economic crisis is even harder. And running a state with 30 years hanging over your head is damn near impossible."
As the federal influence-peddling investigation continued, the Chicago television station WLS reported aspects of Jackson's discussions with prosecutors about the alleged 2002 Blagojevich request for campaign money.
The source close to Jackson reported that Jackson recalled his experience with Blagojevich during this summer's trial of political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted of trading on his access to the governor.
Businessman Ali Ata, who testified that he sought an appointment in the Blagojevich administration, told jurors that he was repeatedly asked for campaign contributions in $25,000 chunks. The number rang a bell with the congressman.
Kenneth Edmonds, Jackson's Washington spokesman, said the congressman "has shared information with the U.S. attorney's office about public corruption in the state during the past several years." He added that Jackson was not acting as an informant in a particular case.
Jackson's name surfaced last week on FBI tapes of Blagojevich telling an adviser that emissaries from Jackson were willing to raise $1.5 million for the governor's campaign coffers if Jackson were appointed to Obama's seat.
Jackson, the son of the Chicago-based civil rights leader, has not been accused of wrongdoing. He has told reporters that he sought the Senate seat honestly and knew of no illegal plan to influence Blagojevich.
Blagojevich and former chief of staff John Harris stand charged with wire fraud and an attempt to force the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers by threatening to withhold state help worth $100 million or more to the Tribune Co. in its sale of Wrigley Field.
Prosecutors aim to persuade a grand jury to indict Blagojevich on a wider range of public corruption charges, including charges that he tried to extort business executives -- including contractors, hospital officials and investment managers -- who sought business with the state.
Several Blagojevich aides and supporters have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities, who also have a trove of secretly recorded conversations captured on a wiretap placed on his home telephone and two transmitters in his campaign office.
Impeachment committee members remain uncertain what evidence U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald will share with them and when he will do so. Committee Chairman Barbara Flynn Currie (D) said Fitzgerald has asked lawmakers to delay calling certain witnesses while the criminal case is underway.
Republicans in Washington and Springfield, the state capital, lashed out at Democrats for failing to legislate a special election to fill Obama's seat. They accused statehouse leaders of ducking a contest for fear of losing.
"The only way the people's voice will be heard and Illinois can end the taint of the Blagojevich scandal is to have a special election," said Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan.
Democrats in Springfield acknowledged that nervousness about the prospect of losing was one motivation for shelving election plans. They also cited cost estimates as high as $50 million and the four months or longer that it would take to elect a successor.
"I'm sure there's a political aspect to it, but there are pros and cons" to holding an election, said state Rep. Julie Hamos (D), a member of the impeachment panel. She estimated that Blagojevich could be forced from office by the end of February.
"The most likely option is that we will actually impeach the governor or he will resign, and the governor, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, will make the appointment," Hamos said. "That probably gives us a senator faster than a special election would."
A Quinn appointee would all but certainly be a Democrat.
"This is a Democratic seat. We want to keep it Democratic, and if an election were to be held, that opens it up to our Republican colleagues," state Sen. William Delgado (D) said, noting that it was the Democrats' decision to make. "That's a matter of whose poker game is it."
Lydersen reported from Springfield.