Four days before the election, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich claimed someone came to him with a deal about filling Barack Obama‘s soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat.
“We were approached `pay to play,'” Blagojevich said as FBI agents listened intently. The candidate would raise $500,000 for Blagojevich, and an emissary would raise an additional $1 million, according to the conversation.
The exchange contributed to charges against Blagojevich in which he is accused of putting his office up for sale, while raising questions about the identity of the candidate.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was the candidate, prompting him to hold an emotional news conference proclaiming his innocence. Jackson, the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said prosecutors have told him he is not the target of the bombshell investigation, nor is he accused of any wrongdoing.
“I did not initiate nor authorize anyone, at any time, to promise anything to Gov. Blagojevich on my behalf,” he said, without taking questions. “I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer or to propose a deal about the U.S. Senate seat.”
Jackson said he openly sought appointment to Obama’s seat but denied offering favors in return to Blagojevich. His lawyer, James D. Montgomery Sr., acknowledged the Illinois Democrat is “Senate Candidate 5” in the 76-page federal complaint filed against the governor, who was arrested Tuesday.
U.S. attorney’s spokesman Randall Samborn would not confirm or deny Jackson’s assertions.
Blagojevich, a second-term Democrat, is accused of scheming to enrich himself by selling Obama’s open seat for cash or a lucrative job for himself or his wife.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it’s “common in politics for people to try to leverage relationships,” but his son didn’t do such a thing.
“The good is news is … that it did not say he had done anything illegal,” Jackson said, referring to the criminal complaint. “Somebody in his name was trying to negotiate.”
Jackson said he didn’t know who tried to negotiate on his son’s behalf and that he had not spoken with the FBI. He said he hadn’t spoken with Blagojevich in months and that he didn’t promote his son for the Senate seat. Jackson said his son was always critical of “clandestine, backroom” deals.
He said the scandal had saddened many people, especially after Obama’s historic victory.
“Our hearts dropped,” he said. “We were astonished. All of us were. We went from the height of joy and exuberance to oceanic depths and a sense of bewilderment. There’s a great sense of pain in the state.”
Jackson Jr. said he met with Blagojevich on Monday in Chicago for 90 minutes to discuss the Senate vacancy. It was their first meeting in about four years, he said.
“I presented my record, my qualifications and my vision,” Jackson said. “Despite what he may have been looking for, that’s all I had to offer.”
The federal complaint cites an intercepted Blagojevich conversation on Dec. 4. In it, the complaint alleges, the governor told an unidentified adviser “that he was giving Senate Candidate 5 greater consideration for the Senate seat because, among other reasons, if Rod Blagojevich ran for re-election, Senate Candidate 5 would `raise money’ for him.”
The complaint alleges that Blagojevich said he might get some money “up front, maybe” from the Senate hopeful “to insure Senate Candidate 5 kept his promise about raising money” for the governor.
On Wednesday, the seven-term congressman called on Blagojevich to resign and said he was appalled “by the pay-to-play schemes hatched at the highest levels of Illinois state government.”
“Politicians and fundraisers do some very strange things from time to time,” said Montgomery, the lawyer. “I wouldn’t put it past someone to be purporting to represent Jesse without authority.”