Federal prosecutors say US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois was directly involved in a potential $1 million offer to win a US Senate seat controlled by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Representative Jackson’s involvement was brought up Wednesday in federal court in downtown Chicago, where Mr. Blagojevich is on trial facing 24 counts of fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and racketeering related to a pay-to-play scheme involving the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama.
What makes the allegation significant is that this is the first time prosecutors have said publicly that Jackson met with Blagojevich representatives, offering to raise money for the former governor at the same time Blagojevich was seeking money in exchange for the Senate seat appointment.
Jackson and Blagojevich negotiated though prominent businessmen from Chicago’s North Side Indian community, prosecutors say.
Senate seat discussed at restaurant meeting
Rajinder Bedi, who worked for Blagojevich, testified Wednesday that he met with Jackson and Raghuveer Nayak, a Jackson supporter and fundraiser, in a downtown Loop restaurant on Oct. 28, 2008. There, Mr. Bedi said, Jackson expressed interest in the Senate seat and the discussion turned to political fundraising.
In that conversation, Bedi said Mr. Nayak discussed the possibility of Jackson raising at least $1 million to influence the Senate selection in his favor.
Jurors also listened to audiotapes of wiretaps, which show Blagojevich’s surprise and, later, interest in Jackson’s overtures. In one conversation, recorded Oct. 31, 2008, a few days after the restaurant meeting, former deputy governor Robert Greenlee is heard discussing Jackson.
“I’m tellin’ ya, that guy’s shameless,” Mr. Greenlee is heard saying.
“Unbelievable isn’t it . . . we were approached, pay to play. That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand, an emissary came, then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a senator,” Blagojevich replies.
The buzz around Jesse Jackson Jr.
Prosecutors say Blagojevich later warmed to the idea of picking Jackson, but wanted to make sure the congressman would deliver on fundraising.
“I can cut a better political deal with these Jacksons . . . but some of it can be tangible upfront,” Blagojevich is heard telling his brother Robert in a phone call recorded Dec. 4, 2008.
Blagojevich directed his brother to set up a meeting with Nayak, Jackson’s representative. But the meeting was canceled once The Chicago Tribune broke the story that the former governor was under federal investigation.