Charles Dharapak/AP – Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) is seen during the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.
By Associated Press, Updated: Friday, December 2, 11:15 AM
WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it will continue its investigation into allegations Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. or someone acting on his behalf offered to raise campaign cash for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for a Senate appointment in 2008.
The committee also released an initial report from the Office of Congressional Ethics that said there was “probable cause” to believe that Jackson either directed a third party or had knowledge of a third party’s effort to convince the since-convicted Blagojevich to appoint Jackson Jr. in exchange for campaign cash.
The report, originally compiled in August 2009, also said there is “substantial reason to believe” Jackson Jr. violated federal law by using his congressional staff to mount a “public campaign” to secure a Senate appointment.
The report had not been released previously and the ethics committee had delayed its investigation because the Justice Department was conducting a criminal investigation that led to Blagojevich’s conviction on a series of corruption charges including efforts to sell a Senate appointment. The Justice Department recently withdrew its request for the committee to defer its investigation, indicating it is no longer actively investigating Jackson.
The ethics committee had previously said it would determine by Friday what course its investigation would take involving Jackson, a Democrat and son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
The younger Jackson responded to the committee’s decision to extend the investigation with a statement pledging to cooperate and reiterating that his efforts to be appointed to the Senate were above-board.
“I have said from the beginning that I publicly and transparently sought to have the Governor of Illinois appoint me to fulfill the final two years of then-Senator Barack Obama’s term in the U.S. Senate,” he said. “I did nothing illegal, unethical or inappropriate in that pursuit and I believe that is what the Ethics Committee will conclude at the end of this process.”
Jackson also released a letter from his attorneys, who wrote that there is no basis for the committee’s investigation and urged the panel to “close its investigation of this matter.”
“Although Congressman Jackson was interested in the appointment … he was largely focused on his own re-election and Obama’s campaign,” Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig said in the letter.
Friday’s announcement means the committee will continue looking into allegations involving Blagojevich and whether Jackson inappropriately used government resources to angle for an appointment. It voted unanimously to continue its inquiry and set no timetable for a conclusion.
The committee said in a statement that continuing the investigation “does not itself indicate that any violation occurred.”
The detailed 2009 report from the Office of Congressional Ethics, released with the statement, indicates investigators have suspicions Jackson had knowledge of efforts to persuade Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate. The report names a likely third party, Raghuveer Nayak.
“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 … or 2) had knowledge that Nayak would likely make such an offer once Rep. Jackson authorized him to advocate on his behalf with Gov. Blagojevich.”
The report said investigating these claims was stymied by the fact that Blagojevich, Nayak and another fundraiser, Rajinder Bedi, have declined to cooperate with the investigation.
The report also concludes, after interviews with Jackson Jr. and his staff, that there is substantial reason to believe that his staff based in both Chicago and Washington was used inappropriately in attempts to secure a Senate appointment.
The Office of Congressional Ethics cannot discipline members of the House and does not determine whether they are guilty. That is left to the ethics committee. The Office of Congressional Ethics does preliminary investigative work for the ethics committee. Its board members are not members of Congress.
Publication of the report and the committee’s decision to continue its investigation could have political consequences for Jackson beyond whatever action the committee might take.
He will stand for reelection in 2012 in a rejiggered congressional district that has attracted a viable primary opponent, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson. A Democrat, Halvorson represented the new terrain in Jackson’s district both in Congress and in the Illinois Legislature. She pounced on Friday’s announcement and has indicated she will make Jackson’s ethical issues a focus of her race.
“There we go,” Halvorson said. “Another day where he’s got to deal with ethics, distractions and his lawyers instead of constituents and this has been going on for over three years”
The 46-year-old Jackson was first elected to office in 1995. He has twice considered runs for mayor of Chicago and was widely seen as interested in an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Obama when he was elected president in 2008.
Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.