Jackson Jr.’s Supporters Were Raising Money for Blagojevich
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.‘s attempts to distance himself from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich just got a lot harder.
As you probably already know, Jackson appears to be “Candidate 5” mentioned in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich. In the FBI’s wiretaps of Blagojevich, the governor asserted representatives for #5 were interested in essentially paying him for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
Now this morning’s Chicago Tribune reports that businessmen connected to the governor and Jackson discussed raising at least $1 million for Blagojevich to encourage him to pick Jackson for the job.
The meeting, a luncheon held on Halloween, apparently led to a Blagojevich fundraiser last Saturday, attended by Jesse Jackson Jr.‘s brother, Jonathan, as well as Blagojevich, several people who were there told the Tribune.
As the FBI detailed earlier this week, Blagojevich was allegedly recorded saying an “emissary” for “Senate Candidate 5” offered to raise $1 million for the governor in exchange for Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
“We were approached ‘pay to play,’” the governor allegedly said. Blagojevich has the sole power to appoint Obama’s successor, and Jackson was lobbying for the position.
Jackson’s newly hired lawyer, James Montgomery Sr., said earlier this week he could not rule out that promises of fundraising were discussed with Blagojevich by people who did not have Jackson’s blessing.
But Jackson (D-IL) held a news conference in Washington Wednesday and insisted he did not try to cut a pay-to-play deal with Blagojevich.
“I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, plead my case or propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat, period,” Jackson said.
The Halloween fundraiser for Blagojevich was sponsored by businessman Raghuveer Nayak. Jackson’s congressional spokesman Rick Bryant told the Tribune Thursday that Nayak is a “family friend and supporter” of the congressman as well as his father, Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“[Jackson Jr.] has talked to [Nayak] about the Senate seat and he has mentioned his interest,” Bryant said. “But he never asked him to do anything.”
Nayak declined to comment for the Tribune story. But the Tribune found:
Two businessmen who attended the Oct. 31 meeting and spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson’s bid for the Senate.
Another attendee of the Halloween meeting, Satish “Sonny” Gabhawala, said he saw Nayak approach another Blagojevich fundraiser, Babu Patel.
“They were trying to convince Babu to use his influence to get the governor to appoint Jesse Jackson to the Senate,” Gabhawala told the Tribune.
One attendee of the Saturday fundraiser, Iftekhar Shareef, told the Tribune Nayak pushed him to write a letter to the governor supporting Jackson for the Senate.
“Raghu [Nayak] is always talking about how we need to appoint Jesse to the Senate,” Shareef told the Tribune. “They are very close. Raghu is close with all the Jacksons.”
The day after Obama’s win last month, Jackson released a statement saying he would be “honored and humbled” to fill Obama’s seat. On Monday, the day before the FBI arrested Blagojevich on charges that he conspired to offer the Senate seat in exchange for personal benefits, Jackson interviewed with Blagojevich for the position.
Jackson emerged from the meeting saying, “I am convinced that the governor has a very thoughtful process that he has put in place and is wrestling and weighing a number of issues in this enormous decision that he has to make.”
Jackson told ABC News that federal prosecutors contacted him Tuesday to “come in and share with them my insights and thoughts about the selection process.” He said he was told he is “not a target of this investigation.”