The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it needs more time to complete its review of ethics charges stemming from allegations that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) acted improperly in seeking appointment to President Obama’s former Senate seat in 2009.
In a joint news release, Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the panel would need more time to “gather additional information necessary to complete its review.”
Jackson is accused of offering former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) $1.5 million in campaign donations from supporters in exchange for appointment to Obama’s former seat. The committee had previously suspended its investigation at the request of federal prosecutors trying Blagojevich, who eventually was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois legislature.
Blagojevich is scheduled for sentencing next week on federal corruption charges stemming from his attempted sale of the seat. Prosecutors did not charge Jackson with any crime, and the Chicago Democrat has denied any wrongdoing. Jackson testified against Blagojevich earlier this year.
But in a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) released for the first time Friday, the secretive panel, which makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee, said there is “probable cause” that Jackson either “directed a third party ... to offer to raise money for Governor Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Representative Jackson to the Senate seat” or “had knowledge” that an offer would be extended on his behalf.
The 300-page OCE report raises another possible ethics violation. Citing emails provided to the panel by Jackson's chief of staff, the report said "it appears that the resources of Representative Jackson's Congressional office were used in the campaign for the seat."
In a news release, Jackson’s office argued that there was “no basis” for the investigation into the matter.
“Congressman Jackson engaged in a public effort to gain the appointment on the merits,” the office said. “He made numerous media appearances in which he promoted his record as a Member of Congress and made the case for why he was the best choice for the Senate Seat … Congressman Jackson acted honorably at all times and did not violate any House rule or federal law in connection with the Senate appointment process.”
The committee’s report cites a recorded conversation by Blagojevich in which he said an “emissary” offered him fundraising dollars to appoint Jackson to the seat.
“We were approached ‘pay 10 play,’ That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came, then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a senator,” Blagojevich said.
But Jackson testified that he had no knowledge that Raghuveer Nayak, a Blagojevich fundraiser whom Jackson had asked to advocate on his behalf, would offer the former governor campaign donations.
“According to Representative Jackson, Mr. Nayak never told him that he was arranging to raise money for the Senate seat, nor did it ever come to the Member’s attention — directly or indirectly — that Mr. Nayak might be doing so,” the committee said in its report. “The last time Representative Jackson spoke with Mr. Nayak was either the day of or the day after the arrest of Governor Blagojevich.”
The OCE report said it was not able to obtain necessary documents from Blagojevich and Nayak and recommended that the Ethics Committee subpoena them.
While the committee has not set a new deadline for its decision, the delay threatens to push the committee’s findings into later this year — during what could be a tough primary battle for Jackson. The primary election is March 20.
Former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) announced in early October that she would challenge Jackson for a new Chicago-based congressional district. That district is primarily composed of Jackson’s current constituents, but includes substantial areas of the Chicago suburbs more familiar with Halvorson.
Jackson’s concern over the district is significant enough that he reportedly asked President Obama for help in the 2012 race. Jackson headed then-Sen. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Illinois.
And while the Ethics Committee emphasized that “conducting further review of a referral … does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred,” having the threat of Ethics Committee punishment looming over Jackson’s primary fight is disconcerting.
Halvorson has indicated she will make it a campaign issue.
This story was updated at 3:25 p.m.