Jesse Jackson Junior plea deal could restore ex-congressman's legal health

February 8, 2013 4:16:29 PM PST
In this I-Team Report: What does Jesse Jackson Junior's plea deal mean for his future and the future of his wife, Sandi, who resigned last month as alderman of Chicago's 7th Ward.

The fact that there is no public record of this case makes it difficult to plot the future for Jesse Jackson Junior and his wife. The tea leaves suggest some jail time for him, but that is not a certainty; and some legal experts say she may now be off the hook, walking under the umbrella of her husband's plea bargain.

Jackson Junior resigned from Congress almost three months ago, saying he needed to focus on restoring his health. The plea agreement that he has struck with federal prosecutors will restore his legal health, according to former assistant U.S. attorney and public corruption expert Ron Safer, Jackson may be healed with the benefit of prison.

"It is unique that the government would enter into a deal that did not have some kind of a determinate sentence in there," said Safer. "Typically, if the government is giving up something, which they are here, they are presumably charging him with one count as opposed to lots and they are entering into a plea agreement, you are at least going to jail for some time. This plea agreement allows the judge, as I understand it, to sentence him to probation if he wants to, that's how I understand it. That's different."

And this is different as well: Unlike former governor Rod Blagojevich, whose wife was considered an unindicted co-conspirator, Patti Blagojevich wasn't an elected official. Sandi Jackson was, with her own campaign funds and operating under well-defined election laws.

Mrs. Jackson is the subject of a federal investigation as well--after finding irregularities in his and her campaign fund records.

Safer says the ex-congressman could have managed to get his wife out of a legal jam.

"It could be part of the deal," Safer said. "It could be, you would only imagine that he would only enter into a plea of guilty if it wrapped up everything including any pros of her but the government may have said, 'Fine, we will do that, but she cannot continue as a public servant.' "

When Jesse Jackson Junior stands before a judge admitting guilt, Safer says his personal story may save him from jail time.

Says Safer: "He would say, 'I abhor the person who committed that crime, it's a terrible crime, it betrays the public trust, I did that, I am horribly sorry for doing that, but I am not that person. That person was ill, that person was living with a real serious illness that I have now belatedly faced and dealt with. I have faced those demons and I am addressing them so today the person who you are sentencing is a different person than that and sending me to jail today does not serve the public's interest."

While the former congressman's future would be hindered by a felony conviction on his record, his wife's future would be more promising, according to Safer.

As we have seen many times, Safer says, "The American public is the most forgiving body in the world," willing to support disgraced politicians. He says, in her case, she is a very dynamic, charismatic and intelligent person and a return to public life would certainly not be out of the question.