Huffpost Chicago

Talk Of Cash For Jesse Jackson Jr. Senate Appointment Comes Up At Blagojevich Trial

Posted: Updated:

Rod Blagojevich had nothing good to say about Jesse Jackson, Jr. when his name was floated as a possible Senate candidate to fill Barack Obama's seat.

He told his chief of staff "it's a repugnant thought to me. I think he's a bad guy. I don't like him. I don't trust him," according to a wiretapped conversation from Nov. 12, 2008 played for jurors in Blagojevich's federal corruption trial.

But by December, the former governor was changing his tune. He was frustrated by the unwillingness of the Washington establishment to give him something in exchange for appointing a candidate favored by Obama and the Senate leadership. He had received a phone call on Dec. 3, 2008 from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who reportedly asked Blagojevich not to appoint Jackson. (Reid has been subpoenaed to testify for the defense).

And he had learned that a friend of Jackson's - a prominent Indian businessman - was willing to raise a lot of money for the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund if the governor would appoint Jackson, according to testimony Wednesday.

It was against this backdrop that prosecutors tried to show that the prospect of cash and revenge motivated Blagojevich to consider Jackson. And they played a series of FBI-recorded conversations to show how his political strategy was evolving in the days leading to his arrest.

In a conversation with his brother and co-defendant Robert Blagojevich on Dec. 4, 2008, Blagojevich said: "...this whole Jesse Jr. thing, you, you gotta understand somethin'. I, I'm f****** elevating him now. Because that whole Washington establishment's freaking out."

Testimony earlier in the trial revealed that Blagojevich, who is accused of multiple criminal counts, including trying to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder, had a long wish list in exchange for the appointment.

The list included campaign contributions, a cabinet post, an ambassadorship, a job for his wife and a non-profit foundation funded by billionaire friends of Obama. But no one was offering anything, leaving the governor isolated and frustrated. He did not want to serve out the remaining two years of his term as governor, and he was broke, according to testimony and FBI recordings of Blagojevich speaking with his aides.

"And I'm so f****** repugnant to them, then fine, take Jesse Jr. f*** you," Blagojevich said during the conversation. He went on:

"...Okay? So why the f*** should I send f****** Lisa Madigan who gets zero support among African Americans, piss off my base . . . and I don't get anything, f*** you Harry Reid."

Prosecution witness Rajinder Bedi, a former fundraiser for Blagojevich and one time head of the state's trade office in the department of commerce, was on the witness stand Wednesday when a series of tapes were played. He testified that he met with Jackson and businessman Raghuveer Nayak - a close friend of Jackson's - and that Jackson expressed his interest in the Senate seat. In a conversation with Robert Blagojevich in October, 2008, Bedi said Jackson was very interested in the seat, and said Nayak could raise a lot of money for Blagojevich.

At that time, Robert Blagojevich told Bedi: "My brother will never appoint him," Bedi testified.

Outside the presence of the jury, it was revealed that Bedi was prepared to testify that at the meeting with Jackson and Nayak, Nayak told Jackson he would raise $1 million for Blagojevich if the governor appointed Jackson to the Senate seat, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Niewoehner. Judge James Zagel would not allow the jury to hear that specific fact.

Jackson could not immediately be reached for comment at his Chicago and Washington offices. But according to published reports, Jackson has said that although he was interested in being named senator, he did not ask any of his supporters to do anything for him. He has not been charged with any crime.

It wasn't clear whether Blagojevich was sincere in considering appointing Jackson to the Senate or whether he was just bluffing. In the Dec. 4 conversation with his brother, he told him to start leaning on Nayak for fundraising support.

"You gotta talk to Raghu[veer]. You gotta call him and say hey, look. You know, Jesse Jr. you know, I think...Rod's meeting with him at some point...and you should just let him know, you know, the Durbins and the others behind the scenes, they don't want him. They're afraid.

"... some of the stuff's gotta start happening now. Right now. And we gotta see it.

"You understand? Now you gotta be careful how you express that. And assume everybody's listening, the whole world's listening. ... But if there's tangible political support like you've said, start showing us now."

A day later, the Chicago Tribune reported that Blagojevich was being surreptitiously taped by the FBI and that one of his aides was cooperating with the federal probe. Blagojevich told his brother to cancel the meeting with Nayak.

On Dec. 6, Blagojevich attended a fundraiser attended by prominent Indian-Americans, Bendi testified. Three days later, he was arrested.

Janan Hanna is a licensed attorney, a lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a freelance writer. She is also a Huffington Post blogger.