Will testimony impact Jackson's political career?

May 25, 2011 3:19:03 PM PDT
Jesse Jackson Junior is not accused of any wrongdoing in the corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich, but the congressman was called to testify for the defense Wednesday.

Congressman Jackson said he never offered to raise money for the former governor in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Blagojevich is accused of scheming to sell or trade that appointment of his own gain.

Jackson was on the stand for about 30 minutes Wednesday morning. He said he never authorized anyone to tell Blagojevich that he or his supporters would raise money for the governor if Jackson were named to the U.S. Senate.

He also said he believes his wife was passed over for a state job because Jackson did not make a $25,000 contribution to the Blagojevich campaign before the former governor was elected. Prosecutors want to use Jackson's testimony to demonstrate the former governor was not above exchanging jobs for campaign cash.

The Blagojevich case already has had a huge impact on the congressman's ambition. While he more than survived a re-election last fall, he's had to sit out on once-in-a-generation opportunities to run for the for U.S. Senate and Chicago mayor. Jackson, 46, has had a rough last 30-month period in his 15 years in public office.

"It was a snafu but he's gotten over it and he can move forward. Simple as that," Professor Robert Starks, Northeastern Illinois University, said.

Starks said Wednesday's direct testimony and limited cross examination by prosecutors should send a signal to the U.S. House ethics committee, which also is trying to find out whether Jackson tried to buy a U.S. Senate seat.

"I think the congressional investigation will be dropped because I don't think there are any grounds for any further investigation at this point," Starks said. But questions remain because prosecutors did not ask about the reported meeting at Chicago's 312 restaurant between Jackson, former Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi, and businessman Raghuveer Nayak. During the meeting Nayak allegedly promised to raise $1 million for Blagojevich if Jackson was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Republican Isaac Hayes-- who ran against Jackson last November--says the congressman did not clear his name and is politically vulnerable:

"One, because his district has not improved since he's been in office, but more importantly his credibility and ethics are in question... and how can you lead a people when they can't trust you," Hayes said.

Jackson won re-election last November with 84 percent of the vote despite revelations that the married congressman had a Washington mistress for whom a fundraiser allegedly bought airplane tickets to and from Chicago. Political analyst Paul Green called Jackson's Congressional seat safe, but said scandal has given too much ammunition to future opponents and damaged Jackson's hopes for higher office.

"A statewide office is probably out forever and running for mayor is probably out forever. And those are the only two things he would probably want to do," Prof. Paul Green, Roosevelt University said.

"Any opponent is going to bring up anything that could hurt him, but I think most of the voters can see through that," Starks said.

Following testimony, Jackson issued a statement that he had "strong feelings" about the Blagojevich case, but he would have no further comment until after a verdict is reached.

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