The House Ethics Committee today announced that it would continue reviewing allegations that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) offered to raise money for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) in exchange for being appointed to a vacant Senate seat but that it would do so without empaneling a formal investigative subcommittee.
The Ethics Committee first began investigating whether Jackson told Blagojevich that he would fundraise in exchange for the Senate seat left open when President Barack Obama was elected to the White House when the matter was referred from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics for further review in August 2009.
The committee agreed to delay its inquiry at the behest of the Department of Justice, which successfully prosecuted Blagojevich, who was found guilty of 17 of 20 corruption charges at the conclusion of his trial in June.
“In order to gather additional information necessary to complete its review, the Committee will continue to review the matter pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a),” Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement today. “The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
The announcement, which was accompanied by the public release of an OCE report that weighed in at 300 pages, was triggered by mandatory disclosure elements in the OCE and Ethics Committee review processes.
“In the course of conducting its review, the OCE learned that staff resources of the Representative’s Washington, DC and Chicago, Illinois, offices were used to mount a ‘public campaign’ to secure the Representative’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. In doing so, Representative Jackson may have violated federal law and House rules concerning the proper use of the Member’s Representational Allowance,” OCE investigators wrote.
The Ethics Committee, along with its statement and the accompanying report, also posted a letter today from Jackson’s legal team at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, which asked that the 18-page letter be published if the OCE’s report was released.
“Congressman Jackson did not improperly use his office staff and official resources to secure appointment to the Senate Seat. Congressman Jackson did not run a political campaign in the traditional sense contemplated by the House rules because there was no election,” the letter read. “Two of Congressman Jackson’s senior aides volunteered small amounts of their own time to assist in his efforts in a manner permitted by the House rules.”
The committee’s decision to continue its probe into the Jackson case is the same course of action it took in August in a case against Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who is accused of failing to disclose a payment he received in 2007 in violation of ethics rules.
A Rule 18(a) investigation allows the committee to “consider any information in its possession indicating that a Member, officer, or employee may have committed a violation of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct” and authorizes the chairman and ranking member to “gather additional information concerning such an alleged violation by a Member, officer, or employee unless and until an investigative subcommittee has been established.”
There are no further public disclosure triggers now that the OCE report has been released unless the committee empanels a subcommittee and holds a public ethics trial.