After more than two years, the House Ethics Committee announced Friday it would continue to probe whether Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., improperly sought an appointment to the U.S. Senate from disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008, but the panel stopped short of opening a full-fledged investigation.
The decision, announced by Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and the ranking Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., extends what has already been a years-long political headache for a man once considered one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars.
The decision does not preclude the committee from forming a full investigative panel at a later date. The congressman has steadily denied any wrongdoing. “I still believe I will be vindicated,” he said in a statement Friday.
Also, on Friday the ethics committee was also forced to disclose 300 pages of new documents about the Jackson Jr. probe. They include memos, interview transcripts and emails between Jackson Jr. and his staff about pursuing the Senate seat.
Jackson Jr.’s lawyers issued an 18-page rebuttal, in which they argued that the congressman had “acted honorably at all times and did not violate any House rule or federal law.”
His legal team denied that Jackson Jr. “improperly” used his office staff and public resources to “secure appointment” to the Senate. But the lawyers did concede that his aides did help promote Jackson’s bid and “provided this assistance in his congressional offices, using their official email accounts.” Jackson’s legal team said it was within the limits of the types of “campaign activities that may properly take place in a congressional office.”
Jackson Jr. himself said in statement that the deluge of new documents meant that, “For the first time in three years my side of the story will be made public and for that I am grateful.”
The Ethics Committee investigation first began in 2009, after a preliminary probe by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which acts like a grand jury, suggested that Jackson Jr. “may have violated federal law and House rules” in seeking the Senate old seat of Barack Obama.
The OCE reported that transcripts of private conversations showed an “emissary” from Jackson Jr. offered to provide “money up-front” to Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate appointment.
The investigation, however, was halted in mid-2009 at the request of the Justice Department, which was pursuing a criminal case against Blagojevich, who was eventually convicted on more than a dozen counts, including attempted extortion and soliciting bribes.
After that trial’s conclusion earlier this year, the House Ethics Committee announced, in October, it was reopening the Jackson Jr. case.
The ethical cloud has taken a toll.
Jackson Jr., now 46, was first elected to Congress at the age of 30. The son of Jesse Jackson, the civil-rights leader who ran for president as a Democrat in the 1980s, Jackson Jr. was widely viewed as one of the Democratic Party’s future leaders. He was touted as a candidate for mayor of Chicago and statewide office.
Now, he faces a primary challenge in 2012, from former Democratic Rep. Debbie Halverson, who has made questions about Jackson Jr.’s ethics a centerpiece part of her campaign.