Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lawyer: Rep. Jackson 'completely guiltless'

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is "completely guiltless" in the alleged scheme to corrupt the appointment of a new U.S. senator from Illinois and will meet with federal investigators as soon as Friday, the congressman's newly hired lawyer said today.

Jackson was not named in the criminal complaint yesterday charging Gov. Rod Blagojevich with trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. But descriptions in the court document fit the congressman's profile and sources have further identified him as the "Senate Candidate 5" who was among those being considered for the job.

Jackson hired longtime Chicago lawyer James Montgomery Sr. on Tuesday after federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against Blagojevich and top aide John Harris, sources said.

"There is nothing there to implicate the congressman," Montgomery told the Tribune. The attorney said he and Jackson have been advised by a top deputy to U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald that Jackson is not a target of the investigation.

Montgomery said he expected Jackson would meet with officials from Fitzgerald's office as soon as Friday.

In an interview posted on the ABC News website today, Jackson did not specify who had told him he was not a target. He also said he did not know whether he was Candidate 5.

Jackson did say, however, that prosecutors had asked him to "come in and share my insights and thoughts about the selection process" and he planned to do so after consulting with his lawyer.

A lengthy government affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Blagojevich refers to a Senate Candidate 5 who was under on-again, off-again consideration by the governor as a replacement for Obama in the Senate.

The affidavit quotes Blagojevich from a surveillance recording as describing an approach by an emissary of Candidate 5 who had promised to raise upwards of $1 million for Blagojevich if Candidate 5 secured the Senate seat.

On Oct. 31, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich described an approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5. "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 [Senate Candidate 5] a senator," Blagojevich allegedly said.

Last week, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich told an adviser that he was giving greater consideration to Senate Candidate 5 because that person could raise money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election and perhaps kick in "some [money] upfront" as well. And Blagojevich was recorded as saying that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, the affidavit said.

On Monday, Jackson met with Blagojevich to discuss the Senate post. Last week, Jackson told the Tribune that he had recently reached out to Blagojevich confidant John Wyma as well as the governor's patronage chief, Victor Roberson, to discuss the Senate job. The Tribune reported last week that Wyma has been cooperating with the federal corruption probe of Blagojevich.

Blagojevich allegedly told one of his fundraisers to pass a message to someone identified in the affidavit only as Individual D whom Blagojevich believed to be close to Senate Candidate 5: If Candidate 5 was to land the Senate seat, "some of this stuff's gotta start happening now . . . right now . . . and we gotta see it. You understand?"

Of the affidavit, Montgomery said: "Even if you read that in its worst light, it was an assumption on the part of Blagojevich that his operatives had sought to induce someone who he believes to be as associate of the congressman to engage in a quid pro quo for the Senate seat."

Jackson told ABC News he had authorized no one to make overtures to Blagojevich on his behalf and said he was sure no one did.

"It's impossible for someone on my behalf to have a conversation that would suggest any type of quid pro quo, payments or offers," Jackson declared. "It's an impossibility to an absolute certainty."

-- Bob Secter and Dan Mihalopoulos

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