KANKAKEE — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Saturday night he expects to be “vindicated” in a House ethics probe looking at his involvement in trying to secure President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Jackson also said he has never met or spoken to Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother and then-head of campaign fundraising, who has offered to appear before the House Committee on Ethics to testify about Jackson’s interest in the seat.
Robert Blagojevich was charged but not convicted and, unlike the former governor, federal prosecutors did not seek a re-trial of Robert Blagojevich.
“I don’t know him. I never had a conversation with him and by definition, I never asked anybody to talk to him,” Jackson told the Tribune of Robert Blagojevich after appearing at the Kankakee County NAACP’s annual dinner. “I didn’t even know he existed until the trial. I don’t know him. I never met him.”
Making his first major public speech in the southern tip of the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, Jackson quickly acknowledged the decision by the House panel to reopen its investigation into allegations that supporters of the congressman offered at least $1.5 million to Rod Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for the Senate appointment.
“You've seen the news reports regarding the ongoing investigation. Let me be clear. I believe in the American system of justice,” Jackson told an audience of about 200 people that included an already announced Democratic primary challenger, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete. “I believe in the American system of justice. The process is continuing and in the end I believe I will be vindicated."
The House ethics probe had been suspended at the request of the U.S. Justice Department while it prosecuted the former governor, who was convicted on federal corruption charges and awaits sentencing after two trials.
During Blagojevich’s retrial, Jackson testified that he “never directed anyone to raise money for another politician.”
Though Jackson was never charged, prosecutors had alleged that two allies of the congressman, businessmen Rajinder Bedi and Raghuveer Nayak, had spoken to Jackson about making the offer.
During the former governor’s retrial, Jackson also testified that his effort to have his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, 7th, appointed Illinois Lottery director failed because he refused to give Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign contribution. The ex-governor has said Jackson’s testimony was untrue.
The taint from the Blagojevich scandal is among several problems Jackson confronts as he seeks re-election from the new, Democratic-drawn 2nd District.
Because of population losses in Chicago, particularly among African Americans, minority districts were drawn far out from the city boundaries to add more voters.
Jackson still would be running in a majority African-American district if the new congressional map survives a Republican court challenge.
Jackson, however, has complained loudly about the new Democratic map. He has contended Democrats failed to provide new opportunities for Latino voters, whose population grew significantly.
His complaints, echoing some of the Republican arguments in federal court, have been discounted by Democratic colleagues.
Jackson was an outspoken critic of Halvorson, who lost a re-election bid last year to Republican Adam Kinzinger of Manteno.
He urged Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn not to appoint her to the post of state transportation secretary after her loss.
In a sign of a bitter campaign, Halvorson said the district’s voters don’t need a congressman who is “distracted” by the ethics investigation.
“I'm confident this district doesn't need another distraction, and that's all he has is one distraction after another,” she said.
“We need a member of Congress that is concentrating on jobs -- now,” Halvorson said. “Choice is something his voters never had. They've been stuck with him because he's not had an opponent.”
Jackson said he agreed with Halvorson that the ethics probe was a distraction. “I agree with her. I think the ethics committee should drop it,” he said.