There is “probable cause” to believe that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. either directed a key fund-raiser to approach former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008 with a pay-to-play offer for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat or knew of the plan, a congressional ethics report found, failing to put a Jackson ethics inquiry to rest.
The report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which also found probable cause that Jackson had improperly used his office to mount a campaign for the Senate in 2008, was made public for the first time Friday as the U.S. House Committee on Ethics announced it would not drop its probe into the Illinois Democrat.
The committee released a 30-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, a grand jury of sorts, which in 2009 detailed its findings and made a recommendation to the committee on ethics.
“There is probable cause to believe that Representative Jackson either (1) directed a third-party, most likely Mr. Raghuveer Nayak, to offer to raise money for Governor Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Representative Jackson to the Senate seat, or (2) had knowledge that Nayak would likely make such an offer once Representative Jackson authorized him to advocate on his behalf with Governor Blagojevich,” the report says.
Nayak is a wealthy businessman, donor, fund-raiser and longtime Jackson family friend. Nayak is also under federal scrutiny involving surgical centers he owns.
The report was put together before Blagojevich’s second trial, in which Jackson’s testimony was at odds with that of prosecution witness Rajinder Bedi. Bedi testified that, in an October 2008 meeting with Nayak and Jackson, the Senate appointment and fund-raising for Blagojevich were discussed.
The ethics report was also assembled before revelations last year by the Chicago Sun-Times that Nayak told authorities it was Jackson who asked him to approach Blagojevich with a $6 million offer for the Senate seat. Nayak also told authorities he secretly bankrolled airline flights for a “social acquaintance” of Jackson’s at the congressman’s request.
The findings include an interview with Jackson, who has not been charged criminally with wrongdoing and who has all along vehemently denied he authorized Nayak to make any money offers to Blagojevich.
“Jackson engaged in a public effort to gain the appointment on the merits,” stated a letter from Jackson’s office which was also released Friday. “Congressman Jackson acted honorably at all times and did not violate any House rule or federal law in connection with the Senate appointment process.”
In an interview with congressional investigators, Jackson said he was shaken down by Blagojevich prior to the Senate seat scheme and found the conduct so egregious, he contacted the U.S. attorney’s office.
But when federal prosecutors later sought details, Jackson, by his own account, told them he’d discuss the allegations against Blagojevich after the then-governor made the Senate seat appointment for which Jackson was vying. The spot eventually went to Roland Burris.
The House committee on Friday could have announced it would launch a full investigation into the allegations but instead said it would build on the previous panel’s findings. That could include taking up the offer by Robert Blagojevich, the ex-governor’s brother, to testify before congressmen on his dealings with Jackson fund-raisers.
The report used some of Jackson’s own words as factors for probable cause, including:
â™¦ That Jackson authorized Nayak to advocate on his behalf for the Senate seat appointment.
â™¦ That Jackson described Nayak as a “prolific” and “obsessive” fund-raiser for Blagojevich.
â™¦ That Jackson, by his own admission, says Blagojevich previously had told him he considered political contributions when making appointments.
â™¦ That Jackson was twice specifically told that Blagojevich “sought something of value” in exchange for the Senate seat appointment.
In addition, the report included a copy of an e-mail Jackson sent to his staff telling them to prepare a letter for Nayak to circulate among the Indian-American community for the Obama Senate seat.
It also noted that four days before Jackson met with Nayak and Bedi, his chief of staff used congressional e-mail to send Nayak the letter.
The report also revealed that in early December 2008, Jackson met with lobbyist and Blagojevich pal John Wyma, who by that point had been covertly working with the feds on the Blagojevich investigation and had provided key information leading to wiretaps, including in Blagojevich’s campaign offices and on his home phone.
According to Jackson, Wyma wrote him a note detailing how Jackson could make inroads with Blagojevich for the Senate seat appointment. Jackson’s lawyer, though, said the note was “misplaced.”
The report notes that alleged bribe offers from Jackson supporters to the Blagojevich camp happened right around the time that Jackson met with two of the supporters.
The first happened on Oct. 28, 2008 – the same day Jackson met with Bedi. Bedi approached the ex-governor’s campaign fund chair Robert Blagojevich with a $1 million offer, according to testimony.
The second approach happened on Oct. 31, 2008 – “three days after Representative Jackson’s meeting with Bedi and Nayak,” the report notes.
Jackson, 46, last year apologized for his relationship with the “social acquaintance.” Controversy surrounding Jackson dashed chances at a possible run for Chicago mayor.
His announced opponent in next year’s Democratic primary, Debbie Halvorson, seized on Friday’s news, saying Jackson’s “ethical distractions are just one reason why he is not qualified to represent the 2nd District.”