December 12, 2008

Jesse Jackson Jr. is 'Senate Candidate 5' in corruption charge against Blagojevich

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Wednesday he never played Let's Make a Deal for Barack Obama's Senate seat, and a defiant Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich rebuffed calls from the President-elect and others to quit his scandal-stained office.

Jackson's lawyer unmasked the congressman as the "Senate Candidate 5" mentioned in a federal criminal complaint against Blagojevich, charged Tuesday with hawking Obama's vacant seat to the highest bidder.

Jackson has been among the most ardent seekers of the post, and Blagojevich and his cronies are revealed in the complaint saying that Senate Candidate 5 would be willing to raise $1 million or more for the governor.

Jackson denied he or any of his emissaries tried to cut any deals. He said he met Blagojevich on Monday, the day before the governor was busted, for the first time in four years, but insisted he only thought he was making his case on the merits.

"I thought, mistakenly, I had a chance, and I was being considered because I had earned it," Jackson said in a Capitol Hill news conference. "Clearly, I was badly mistaken. I did not know that the process had been corrupted."

According to the federal complaint, Blagojevich said in taped conversations he might "get some [money] up front, maybe" from No. 5 to make sure the candidate lived up to a promise of raising cash later.

Blagojevich told an adviser on Halloween that an associate of Candidate 5 - Jackson - came to him and said he'd raise $500,000 if Jackson were tapped, and then a "guy would raise a million, if I made him [No. 5] a senator."

Jackson denied adamantly Wednesday that he or any emissary had approached the governor.

The wiretaps suggest Blagojevich believed Obama didn't want Jackson to get the post.

Blagojevich said if Obama won't "f-----g give me anything" for naming his favorite, "then I'll f-----g go [to No. 5]."

Federal prosecutors say Blagojevich even tried to shake down Team Obama for a cushy cabinet job or union post.

Jackson, who sounded like he still wants the Senate seat, added his own call to those of Obama and every Democratic U.S. senator for Blagojevich to step down, saying he should forfeit his right to appoint Obama's successor.

"The fact is, anyone appointed by the governor at this point would be too severely tainted to serve the state effectively and without suspicion in the United States Senate," he said.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is seeking a special election for the slot. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs says the President-elect feels that "under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois."

Blagojevich, who remains governor despite his arrest, was back at work Wednesday morning - his 52nd birthday.

He faces charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, which could carry up to 20 years in prison, and solicitation to commit bribery, punishable by up to 10 years.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn also urged Blagojevich to quit before lawmakers impeach him.

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