Exhausted and, according to a friend, fighting to save his marriage, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. announced Monday he’s been on a previously-undisclosed medical leave of absence for the past two weeks.
“I know he has been under a lot of pressure,” said a Jackson friend in Washington, D.C. “He’s been fighting really hard to save his marriage. And he had a tough election. There’s been a lot of stuff.”
The cause for his leave was said to be “exhaustion,” according to Jackson’s office, which has sent out at least 16 press releases — many quoting Jackson — in the two weeks since he dropped out of sight.
The Jackson friend, who saw him in early June at the Capitol, said he looked withdrawn and distracted, not his usual self.
Jackson, 47, cast his last vote in Congress on June 8. He has missed the votes since. No date has been set for his return.
“We missed him last week and kind of figured he may have been exhausted,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, also a Chicago Democrat. “We knew that he at one time had some medical attention a few years ago, and so it does not surprise me. The heat may have just gotten the best of him for a little bit. The week before, Jesse was pretty much his normal self, laughing, singing, talking.”
Last time Jackson was suffering from exhaustion, he sought refuge and recharged his batteries at the California home of supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, a source said. Jackson’s current location wasn’t disclosed — and colleagues said they didn’t know.
A late Monday afternoon press release was the first public word of his leave. The statement was brief.
“On Sunday, June 10th, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr. went on a medical leave of absence and is being treated for exhaustion. He asks that you respect his family’s privacy. His offices remain open to serve residents of the Second District.”
The son of the famed civil rights leader is facing a Congressional ethics investigation concerning allegations tied to the Rod Blagojevich corruption case.
Just last week, a fund-raiser in the middle of the Jackson saga — Raghuveer Nayak — was arrested by federal authorities in an unrelated alleged fraud scheme.
Jackson was already on his leave by then, and his attorney, Paul Langer, said the leave has nothing to do with the Nayak case.
“I can tell you unequivocally it is unrelated to the arrest of Mr. Nayak,” Langer said.
For the last several years, Nayak has been the aching thorn in Jackson’s side after Blagojevich was heard on tape saying that Jackson’s emissary — Nayak — offered what Blagojevich believed was a $1.5 million offer in exchange for the Senate seat that was about to be vacated by Barack Obama following his 2008 election as president.
Jackson has repeatedly and vehemently denied he authorized anyone to approach Blagojevich on his behalf. Jackson has not been charged in the probe.
“Respect our privacy” was the same request Jackson made via news release in Sept. 2010 when the Sun-Times revealed that federal investigators were looking into Nayak’s claims that Jackson had him pay to fly Washington, D.C., cocktail waitress Giovana Huidobro to Chicago at Jackson’s request.
In a March 2009 interview with the FBI, Jackson described Huidobro as a “social acquaintance,” sources have said.
After the “social acquaintance” story ran, both Jackson and the his wife, Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), asked that their privacy be respected.
In an interview at the time with Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Sandi Jackson said she had known about the woman before her face appeared on Page 1.
“I’d known about it nearly two years ago because Jesse told me late one night in our home in Washington,” she said.
“When Jesse told me about the indiscretion, I didn’t want details. I know what adultery looks like. I didn’t need to visualize it. I needed to concentrate on my kids. ...
“He said it was over. I was mortified and in agony, but he knew if I found out any other way it would be over. That the only way to save our marriage was to come clean.”
Ald. Jackson said there were sleepless nights, “and I told him I would only consider staying if we got into therapy.” She described it as “intense marital counseling and spiritual therapy to save our marriage.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, reached Monday, declined to elaborate on his son’s health, saying: “I think the statement speaks for itself.”
The younger Jackson represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes part of the South Side and south suburbs. He was first elected in 1995 and fended off a primary bid this spring from former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson.
Contributing: Natasha Korecki, Dan Mihalopoulos, Mark Konkol
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