Jesse Jackson Jr. 'deeply sorry' about relationship
Denies allegations about Senate seat
September 22, 2010
NATASHA KORECKI, ABDON M. PALLASCH AND FRAN SPIELMAN
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said he was "deeply sorry" about a relationship with a Washington, D.C., social acquaintance, but he called it "preposterous" to contend he asked a fund-raiser to approach former Gov. Rod Blagojevich with a $6 million Senate seat offer.
Jackson was responding to a report in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times that revealed fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak told federal authorities Jackson had directed him to approach Blagojevich with a campaign cash offer in exchange for President Obama's former Senate seat.
The Sun-Times also reported Jackson had allegedly asked Nayak to pay to fly a social acquaintance from Washington to Chicago.
Jackson dismissed Nayak's allegations as false and nothing new and asked that his family's privacy be respected with regard to the social acquaintance, Giovana Huidobro.
"I've already talked with the authorities about these claims, told them they were false, and no charges have been brought against me," Jackson said in a statement, referring to Nayak's allegations. "The very idea of raising millions of dollars for a campaign other than my own is preposterous. My interest in the Senate seat was based on years of public service, which I am proud of, not some improper scheme with anyone."
Jackson's statement did not address another component of the Sun-Times report: that Nayak paid to fly Huidobro from Washington to Chicago, allegedly at the congressman's request.
One expert said the allegation could mean ethical questions for the congressman who is considering a run for mayor.
In statements, both Jackson and the congressman's wife, Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), asked that their privacy be respected with regard to the social acquaintance.
Both said they had dealt with the social acquaintance matter before it was made public, but it was unclear how long ago. In the congressman's statement he said it was "handled some time ago." Ald. Sandi Jackson released a statement that appeared on the Chicago Tribune website Tuesday, saying the family has been "privately addressing it for several months."
Her office released a statement to the Sun-Times later in the day saying it was a matter her family has been "privately addressing for two years."
"Therefore, I would hope that the public and the media will respect our family's right to continue to handle this matter privately."
Rep. Jackson expressed regret that the disclosure of a social acquaintance might disappoint voters, but he seemed to indicate it wouldn't scare him from office.
"The reference to a social acquaintance is a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago," Jackson said in his statement. "I ask that you respect our privacy. I know I have disappointed some supporters, and for that I am deeply sorry. But I remain committed to serving my constituents and fighting on their behalf."
The Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Nayak told authorities that, in an Oct. 8, 2008, meeting, Jackson directed him to offer Blagojevich $6 million for the Senate appointment.
Three weeks later, at an Oct. 31 fund-raiser, Nayak approached Robert Blagojevich, the then-governor's brother, and offered $1 million up front from fund-raisers and $5 million later if Jackson were appointed, according to Robert Blagojevich's testimony at trial. Robert Blagojevich testified he dismissed Nayak's offer, describing him as "clumsy."
Nayak told authorities that he made that approach at Jackson's direction, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
Nayak is an Oak Brook businessman and longtime fund-raiser who remains under federal scrutiny in an IRS case, according to sources.
Nayak's remarks to authorities run counter to public statements Jackson has made as recently as last week that he never authorized any deal to attempt to trade campaign cash for the Senate appointment.
Nayak's statements to the feds came in late 2008 and in 2009. Neither Jackson nor Nayak has been charged. Nayak was not called as a witness in Blagojevich's trial.
The allegation that Nayak paid to fly Huidobro at Jackson's request could raise ethical questions under the U.S. House of Representatives' gift ban act.
Having a third party pay for flights at a congressman's request and not reporting the value of those flights as a gift, if they were worth more than $50, would appear to be "something of value" that should be reported under the House's rule, according to an expert on the act.
"It defines 'gift' as any 'item having monetary value,' " said Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, quoting from the law. " 'The term includes gifts of . . . transportation. . . . A gift to . . . any . . . individual based on that individual's relationship with the [House] Member . . . shall be considered a gift to the Member . . . if it is given with the knowledge and acquiescence of the Member.' "
Jackson did not disclose the gift from Nayak on his House ethics statements or on federal campaign contribution logs. Nayak told authorities he paid for at least two flights for Huidobro and provided billing information, according to the sources.
"Completely apart from disclosure, a member's solicitation of a gift like this would be troubling," Clark said. "The mere solicitation of a gift is problematic."
Unless Huidobro's visit was campaign-related, Jackson's failure to disclose the gift on his campaign contribution reports does not appear to violate Federal Election Commission requirements, Clark and other experts told the Sun-Times.
The FBI interviewed Huidobro about a year ago as part of its corruption probe of Blagojevich. Authorities were trying to determine whether Jackson had asked Nayak to offer Blagojevich campaign cash in exchange for the then-governor's appointment, according to sources.
Reached on his cell phone on Tuesday, Jackson Jr. said, "I have nothing to say. Call my office. Have a good day."
Pressed to describe the nature of his relationship with Huidobro, Jackson's answer was the same:
"I have nothing to say."
PHOTO OF GIOVANA AND VIDEO WITH JESSIE JACKSON, JR
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