Kadner: Jackson Jr. and that Senate seat
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org July 1, 2013 7:26PM
Updated: August 3, 2013 6:16AM
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich sits in a federal prison, convicted of trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat.
But no one has been convicted, or even arrested, by federal authorities, for trying to buy that Senate seat.
As Jesse Jackson Jr., the former congressman, awaits sentencing for illegally spending more than $750,000 in campaign funds, many wonder why he was never charged with trying to buy the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
“There’s no question in my mind he tried to buy the Senate seat,” said attorney Michael Ettinger, who represented the governor’s brother, Robert Blagojevich, who was initially accused of being a middleman in the alleged deal.
The first trial of the Blagojevich brothers resulted in a hung jury on the most serious charges. The government eventually dropped the charges against Robert and went on to convict Rod Blagojevich of 17 felony charges in a second trial.
Ettinger, whose law firm is in Palos Heights, speculated that the government may have been reluctant to go after Jackson because the two key witnesses, Indian-American businessmen who supposedly made the offer of $6 million for the Senate seat on behalf of Jackson, were not of good character.
Raguveer Nayak, one of the key players in the pay-to-play scheme, faces a 19-count indictment for allegedly paying kickbacks to doctors to refer patients to his medical clinics.
It was well known at the time of Blagojevich’s trials that Nayak was under federal investigation for fraud in that alleged scheme. Nayak was not called as a witness in either Blagojevich trial.
During the second trial, however, Jackson did take the stand as a defense witness. He was asked about Nayak and called him a “very close” friend, “lovable,” “likeable,” the sort of “gentleman you would welcome into your home.”
It later turned out Nayak was also the sort of fellow whom a married congressman might ask to pay for his girlfriend’s airline ticket from Washington, D.C., to Chicago. Jackson had admitted to federal agents before the Blagojevich trial that Nayak had performed precisely that favor for him.
Prior to all those revelations, however, Jackson had described Nayak to me as a braggart, a hanger-on, the sort of guy who always was coming up with big plans that amounted to nothing. He was a funny guy, whom no one took seriously, Jackson said.
Well, it turned out that Jackson took Nayak very seriously. He often had him to his Washington, D.C., office for drinks and cigars, and they frequently dined together in the nation’s capital.
After learning the truth about the Nayak-Jackson connection, I stated in this column that a man who could be trusted to secretly transport your mistress across the country would be precisely the sort of guy you might trust to present an offer to buy a U.S. Senate seat on your behalf.
Jackson has always denied he was involved in any such arrangement to join the Senate.
In fact, he said he told people lobbying on his behalf for the position to be careful about what they said to Blagojevich because he was under federal investigation and possibly being wiretapped by the FBI.
“I think he (Jackson) was tipped off about the investigation by someone in the federal government,” Ettinger said. “There are tapes of him talking to the Indian businessmen, telling them to be very careful about what they say to Blagojevich because he’s being investigated.”
There are those who believe (Ettinger is among them) that someone in the Obama administration reached out to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago and let it be known that Jackson Jr. should not be indicted.
But it is also a fact that Jackson was cooperating with investigators, and he has said as much publicly.
Whatever the case, arresting a sitting congressman, the son of a prominent civil rights leader, would have doubtless created a lot of political pressure.
A conviction would not have been a slam dunk. The best evidence of that is the difficulty the U.S. attorney’s office had in convicting Blagojevich.
Those with short memories may not remember there were a lot of people claiming the former governor was being treated unfairly and had done nothing different than previous officeholders.
Add race into the mix and any Jackson trial would have created a storm of controversy.
All of that said, I can’t help feeling that the public deserved its day in court.
This was a U.S. Senate seat someone tried to acquire by offering an Illinois governor a bribe.
It was the public’s trust in its elected officials and the government itself that were the victims.
To let the matter dangle, to not even address the issue directly in a courtroom, has left many citizens feeling that the justice system failed them.
Jackson’s sentencing on the misuse of campaign funds, which was scheduled for Wednesday, has been delayed. He has pleaded guilty, as has his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, to separate charges of income tax evasion.
To some, the fact the Jacksons have been humiliated, forced to resign their elected offices and are likely headed to prison is enough punishment.
I don’t feel a need to see the Jacksons suffer further.
But I would like Jackson, as part of any sentencing deal, to fully confess in open court to whatever role he played in a scandal that resulted in the criminal conviction of an Illinois governor.
Failing that, I would hope that federal prosecutors fully disclose what they know about Jackson’s participation in the bribery scheme during their listing of his prior “bad acts” to the judge.
The government has indicated it has no objection to staggered prison sentences for the Jacksons, allowing one parent to remain home with their two children.
That’s fine with me, provided that Jackson finally tells the people the truth about that bribe.