A political operative is telling federal investigators that Jesse Jackson, Jr. offered $6 million to Rod Blagojevich in return for an appointment to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, though Jackson Jr. continues to deny those reports.
The claim by fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak, reported today in the Chicago Sun-Times, confirms what federal prosecutors argued in ex-Governor Blagojevich's corruption trial this summer: that the congressman made a direct offer to the governor for the seat.
Jackson has repeatedly and fervently denied that he made a bid for the seat. Just days after the governor was arrested, Jackson issued a statement reading, "I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, plead my case, or propose a deal about a US Senate seat, period."
He repeated that sentiment Tuesday, and denied knowing anything about the alleged offer.
The Sun-Times also reports Nayak told the FBI he paid airfare for a woman he described as a "social acquaintance" of Jackson, the Associated Press reports. Jackson says the issue is a private matter between him and his wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson.
The Chicago congressman did confirm that he was "Candidate Number 5," as described in the 76-page federal complaint. In that complaint, Candidate 5 was alleged to have offered $1 million in fundraising dollars to Gov. Blagojevich in exchange for the appointment.
As recently as last week, though, Jackson continued his denial of any involvement in such a scheme, defying federal prosecutors to "bring it on."
"I assume that (prosecutors) have no evidence or they should have brought a charge," he said. "If I'm a conspirator - bring it on. But I can't possibly be a conspiracy to that which I am not a part of or have no knowledge of."
But Nayak, an Oak Brook-based fund-raiser, says Jackson had full knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. The Sun-Times reports today on the story that Nayak is telling federal investigators:
Nayak said he had a critical conversation with the congressman about the seat while the two were alone. Nayak, also a former Blagojevich fund-raiser, said that Jackson asked him to tell Blagojevich that if the then-governor appointed Jackson to the U.S. Senate, Chicago's Indian community would raise $1 million for Blagojevich and -- after Jackson was appointed -- Jackson would raise $5 million for the then-governor.
Regardless of whether he ultimately faces charges, the Blagojevich albatross will certainly hang heavy around the neck of Jackson if he chooses to run for mayor of Chicago, as has been speculated.
Jackson and his wife Sandi, also considered a possible candidate, are planning an announcement on their mayoral ambitions later this week.