U.S. News

Jesse Jackson Jr. denies offering political cash to Blagojevich

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. said on Wednesday he never offered or was asked to raise money for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in return for appointment to a vacant Illinois Senate seat.

Rep Jesse Jackson Jr. speaks at a news conference in Washington December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Mitch Dumke

Jackson and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were the first high-profile witnesses to take the stand in the second trial of Blagojevich, accused of corruption.

Blagojevich’s first trial last year ended in a jury deadlock and he was convicted on only one count of lying to the FBI.

Attorneys began their defense on Wednesday of the two-term governor charged with trying to leverage the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama’s for personal gain.

Jackson, who represents the south side of Chicago in Congress and is son of civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, testified that he was very interested in being appointed to the vacant Senate seat in 2008. But he denied that he offered or was asked to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the job.

“I never directed anyone to raise money for any other politician other than myself in my life,” he said.

Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the seat, not Jackson.

Under cross-examination, Jackson described his relationship with Blagojevich as “frosty” and said the issue between them began in 2002, when Jackson failed to endorse Blagojevich in the Democratic primary for governor.

He eventually endorsed Blagojevich in the fall election. But when he was asked to raise $25,000 for the campaign, he declined.

In 2003, Jackson testified that he approached Blagojevich and asked him to consider appointing his wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, to head the Illinois state lottery.

Jackson testified that Blagojevich told him to give his wife’s resume to Tony Rezko, the governor’s top fund-raiser, who has been convicted of taking kickbacks from state contractors.

Jackson complied but the lottery job went to someone else. He testified that six months later, when he ran into Blagojevich, the governor told him he was “very sorry the thing with Sandi didn’t work out” but then quickly added “you should have given me that $25,000.”

Emanuel, a former Congressman from the city’s north side who was working for Obama in the fall of 2008, testified for less than five minutes, answering mostly yes and no questions.

Asked by defense attorneys if anyone in Blagojevich’s circle had asked him to arrange a fund-raiser for the governor, or to set up a nonprofit for Blagojevich in exchange for political favors, Emanuel answered “no.”

Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune