MAY 25, 2011
A U.S. congressman and a White House chief of staff turned big-city mayor took the stand in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption retrial today to forge, if only momentarily, the sort of excitement that surrounded the first trial.
Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (Chicago’s new mayor) created a sort of media frenzy when they appeared at the Dirksen federal courthouse in downtown Chicago this morning. Jackson, a Democrat who represents the city’s south side in the U.S. House, testified first.
The son of the famed “civil rights” con artist with the same name denied ordering a major political fundraiser to offer $1.5 million in exchange for a U.S. Senate appointment that became available when Barack Obama got elected president. Appearing somewhat nervous, Jackson testified that he has never directed anyone to raise money for another politician other than himself and he did not offer any fund-raising in exchange for the appointment.
Jackson was the first high-profile witness to testify in Blagojevich’s retrial, which began earlier this month. The impeached two-term governor is charged with a multitude of felonies—including several counts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy—for, among other things, trying to sell Obama’s senate seat. Jackson aggressively pushed for the appointment when it became open in 2008 and even launched a media campaign he hoped would build public support.
Prosecutors claim Blagojevich considered awarding the seat to Jackson because the congressman’s emissaries had promised to raise at least $1 million for the former governor’s campaign fund. In fact, Jackson is mentioned as “Senate Candidate 5” in the government’s original 76-page indictment, though he has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a bribery scheme on his behalf.
Emanuel’s testimony was even shorter, though his appearance alone created commotion and required heightened security around the courthouse grounds. Earlier in the trial Blagojevich’s top aide testified that, as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel called to suggest appointing the president’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, who ended up taking a White House job.
In court Wednesday, Emanuel testified in less than five minutes that he was never asked for anything in exchange for appointing Jarrett to Obama’s vacant senate seat. Prosecutors assert that Blagojevich tried to negotiate a cabinet position or a lucrative “nonprofit” that he could run after leaving office for appointing Jarrett.
Of interesting note is that Jackson is an honorary member of Judicial Watch’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians.” Jackson’s father has also been the target of Judicial Watch probes and was the subject of a special report that exposes him as an extortionist who uses his influence as a civil rights leader to blackmail wealthy corporations with claims of discrimination and threats of boycotts.
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