- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. vehemently denied Wednesday trying to bribe Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich to name him to President-elect Barack Obama’s old Senate seat, as Mr. Obama and all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus called on the embattled governor to resign.

Mr. Jackson’s attorney acknowledged that his client was the “Senate Candidate 5” mentioned 16 times in a 76-page affidavit laying out the FBI’s corruption case against Mr. Blagojevich, but he said Mr. Jackson was not aware of anyone cutting deals on his behalf.

The affidavit quotes Mr. Blagojevich telling one of his advisers that he had bumped up Candidate 5 in his mind because the person, through an associate, has said the candidate would be willing to raise more money than other competitors for a future Blagojevich campaign.

“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,” the affidavit quotes Mr. Blagojevich as saying.

Mr. Jackson, facing reporters at the Capitol in Washington, said he was seeking the Senate seat and that he met with Mr. Blagojevich on Monday for the first time in four years. He said he offered only his qualifications and record in seeking the appointment.

“I did not initiate nor authorize anyone, at any time, to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf,” Mr. Jackson said, reading from a prepared statement. “I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer or to plead my case or to propose a deal about the U.S. Senate seat, period.”

While refusing to take questions, Mr. Jackson said he spoke Tuesday with members of the U.S. attorney’s office who told him he was not a target of the investigation and was “not accused of any misconduct.” The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment about the son of the famed civil rights leader, who was elected to his Chicago congressional seat in 1995.

Members of the Senate have said Mr. Blagojevich should not be allowed to name a replacement for Mr. Obama’s seat and have called on the Illinois legislature to pass a law shifting that power away from the tainted governor.

“The president-elect agrees with Lieutenant Governor [Pat] Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois,” Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, told reporters in Chicago, a day after Mr. Blagojevich was arrested on charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat Mr. Obama vacated after winning the presidency.

Mr. Obama scheduled a press conference for Thursday but did not make any new statements himself.

“We write to insist that you step down as governor of Illinois and under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat,” the Senate Democrats told Mr. Blagojevich in a letter Wednesday. “In light of your arrest … on alleged federal corruption charges related to that Senate seat, any appointment by you would raise serious questions.”

The letter was signed by all 48 Democratic senators, including Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. - but not Mr. Obama - and two independent members who caucus with the Democrats.

The U.S. Constitution permits the Senate to refuse to swear in a duly-elected or -appointed member, a point to which the Democratic senators alluded, telling Mr. Blagojevic that if he were to “ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority … to determine whether such a person should be seated.”

Mr. Blagojevich is free on bond, and he reported for work Wednesday. He faces charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, which can carry a 20-year prison sentence, and solicitation to commit bribery, punishable by up to 10 years.

If Mr. Blagojevich resigns, Mr. Quinn, also a Democrat, would become governor and could pick Mr. Obama’s replacement.

Illinois state lawmakers are already talking of impeaching Mr. Blagojevich in a special session as early as next week if he refuses to leave.

“Everyone is calling for his head,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, Chicago Democrat.

One of Mr. Blagojevich’s deputy governors, Bob Greenlee, resigned Wednesday.

The complaint identifies a “Deputy Governor A” as someone trying to strong-arm the Chicago Tribune on the governor’s orders. Mr. Greenlee’s attorney, David Stelter, did not dispute to the Associated Press that his client is “Deputy Governor A” and said the reason for the resignation “should be obvious.”

Mr. Obama spoke briefly on Tuesday about the arrest, saying he was “saddened and sobered.”

Mr. Obama said he had not had contact with Mr. Blagojevich about his replacement, but in an interview with the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times he cut off questions about whether anyone on his staff had communicated with the governor.

“Let me stop you there because … it’s an ongoing … investigation,” he was quoted as saying, adding that he could speak only to facts he knew.

Federal officials have said Mr. Obama is not accused of wrongdoing.

He and Mr. Blagojevich have never been close, and Republicans searching for links point to associates both men have in common and to Mr. Obama’s endorsements of the governor in his 2002 and 2006 campaigns.

Still, some Republicans have called on him to make public any conversations his staff had with Mr. Blagojevich or his intermediaries.

The Republican National Committee kept up the pressure on Mr. Obama, issuing a release detailing Mr. Jackson’s support for his candidacy.

RNC Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan also slammed the president-elect as offering “carefully parsed and vague statements,” saying that is “unacceptable.”

“Considering the severity of the allegations against Governor Blagojevich, the president-elect should immediately disclose any and all communications his transition team has had with the governor’s office along with any Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials involved in the matter,” Mr. Duncan said. “Obama’s promise of transparency to the American people is now being tested.”

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