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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) used his Congressional staffers in an influence campaign to win appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama and in the process, became implicated in a pay-to-play scheme to raise money for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), according to Congressional investigators.
Though Jackson’s attorneys agree with most of the facts in the case — which were detailed in a report by the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics — they say Jackson did not mastermind or have knowledge of the pay-to-play scheme, and any misuse of his staffers was unintentional.
The House Ethics Committee today released both the OCE report and a response letter from Jackson’s lawyers in conjunction with its announcement that the committee would continue to probe the matter without forming an investigative subcommittee.
The two documents are remarkably similar in their accounts of how Jackson sought to repair his “frosty” relationship with Blagojevich in order to gain appointment to the Senate.
“Because he had a poor relationship with Blagojevich — due to past political differences and a history of rebuffing Blagojevich’s ‘pay-to-play’ politics — Congressman Jackson concluded that the only way he could gain the appointment was by making a public case ... and sought assistance from any and all sources to voice support for Congressman Jackson with Blagojevich,” the letter from Jackson’s attorneys at Steptoe & Johnson said.
The OCE investigators wrote “on two occasions Rep. Jackson was told that Gov. Blagojevich was looking for something of value in exchange for the Senate appointment.”
Jackson has known for almost a decade the sort of politics Blagojevich favored, the documents show.
In 2002, Jackson was asked by former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.) to donate $25,000 to then-Rep. Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaign. He declined. After the election, Jackson asked the governor to consider appointing his wife, Sandi Jackson, to the state’s lottery commission. Blagojevich later chose someone else, according to accounts told to his attorneys and investigators.
“In 2003, Congressman Jackson spoke with Blagojevich in Washington, D.C., and Blagojevich said he was sorry the ‘lottery thing’ did not work out with Sandi Jackson. Then, as he was leaving the room, Blagojevich turned and, in a move that reminded Congressman Jackson of Elvis, snapped his fingers, pointed at Congressman Jackson, and said, ‘You should’ve given me that $25,000,’” according to the letter submitted by Jackson’s lawyers.
Jackson’s attorneys describe another meeting several years later in which the Congressman was told that Blagojevich would support a project to build an airport outside Chicago if he was given a seat on the airport commission, which later prompted Jackson to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In 2008 Jackson attended a meeting about the same project at which his close family friend, Raghuveer Nayak, is said to have promised a Blagojevich representative that he would raise $1 million for his re-election bid in exchange for Jackson’s appointment to the Senate.