CHICAGO – In the wake of the most brazen Illinois corruption case in years, President-elect Barack Obama and the entire Senate Democratic caucus called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign Wednesday, while Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said he did nothing wrong in seeking a Senate appointment from the governor.
Jackson said that he may be “Senate Candidate 5” in the 76-page affidavit filed Tuesday in support of corruption charges against Blagojevich, also a Democrat, but that he had “no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing.”
The criminal complaint quotes the Democratic governor as saying that an emissary from Candidate 5 had offered to raise $500,000 for Blagojevich’s campaign treasury. Jackson said at a news conference that “I never sent a message or an emissary.”
Barely 24 hours after FBI agents led him away in handcuffs, Blagojevich returned to work in his downtown Chicago office without speaking to reporters and without giving any indication of his plans.
His refusal to step aside in the wake of the allegations that he sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama led to blunt calls for his ouster from Chicago and Springfield, Ill., to Washington.
All 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter urging Blagojevich to quit immediately and allow his successor to appoint Obama’s replacement. If the seat goes unfilled, they fear, it could prove difficult to produce 60 votes to prevent a filibuster on Obama’s economic rescue package. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also warned that the Senate leadership may not seat anyone Blagojevich picks because the new senator “would be under a cloud of suspicion.”
Obama thinks the Illinois General Assembly should take control of the issue, “and put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois,” said Robert Gibbs, the incoming White House press secretary.
Not waiting for Blagojevich to act, Illinois legislators began drafting a bill to strip the governor of the authority to name the new senator. They are expected to meet in Springfield on Monday to approve a special election to fill the final two years of Obama’s six-year term. State House leader Michael Madigan, and State Senate President Emil Jones Jr., both Democrats, expect approval within days.
According to the federal affidavit, Blagojevich on Dec. 4 told an adviser: “We were approached ‘pay-to-play,’ that, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise $1 million if I made (Candidate 5) a senator.”
The same day, Blagojevich allegedly told his top fundraiser that he was “elevating” Candidate 5 on the list of possible Senate picks. He said he was due to meet the candidate in a few days and may be able to get something “tangible up front.”
At a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, Jackson told reporters that “I reject and denounce pay-to-play politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing. I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf.”
Recently elected to his eighth term from Chicago’s South Side, Jackson said he met with Blagojevich for 90 minutes on Monday – the day before the governor’s arrest – to discuss his qualifications for the Senate appointment.
Jackson said the U.S. attorney’s office told him on Tuesday that “I am not a target of this investigation.” A spokesman for the attorney’s office declined to confirm or deny that assertion.
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