Lynn Sweet: Jesse Jackson Jr. shielding his wife
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet November 24, 2012 9:48AM
Then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), ask each other for support and votes in the primary as they arrive at a polling station for early voting on March 9. | M. Spencer Green~AP
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:27AM
It looks like former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who resigned Wednesday, is trying to take any potential heat off of his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) — who is also his campaign manager.
I’m told that Sandi Jackson has hired her own legal representation as her husband’s lawyers try to work out a deal in the ongoing federal probe of his campaign finances.
It doesn’t take too much reading between the lines of Jackson’s resignation letter — unusually poignant — that he is telling the feds to blame him — and leave his wife out of it. In the letter, sent Wednesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Jackson acknowledged the probe for the first time, said he is cooperating with “the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone.”
It’s prudent for Sandi Jackson to have her own lawyer. She is under the microscope herself as federal agents are digging into Jackson campaign spending.
According to campaign finance disclosures, Sandi Jackson has been drawing $5,000-a-month payments from her husband’s main campaign fund through her firm, J. Donnatella and Associates. Her company has been on the Jackson campaign payroll for years, and it is located, according to FEC records, in the couples’ Washington red-brick rowhouse off DuPont Circle. Sandi Jackson was deeply involved in the South Side and south suburban political operation the couple put together — run for a time from the basement of their Chicago home.
Former Rep. Jackson hired three high-powered lawyers to represent him — Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig, partners in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson, and former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb, a Winston & Strawn partner in Chicago. I confirmed Friday that this team only represents the former congressman.
The Jackson crisis managers
Jackson’s legal team hired Washington’s premier crisis management firm — Smith & Company — to help Jackson navigate through his troubled waters. The principles are Judy Smith and Christopher Garrett.
Smith hit the news, again, in recent days when Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite who figures in the former CIA Director David Petraeus sex scandal, retained Smith to represent her. The ABC show “Scandal” leading character, Olivia Pope, is based on Smith, a co-executive producer of the series.
“When you get into trouble — life-ruining, headline-making trouble — there’s only one person to call ... Olivia Pope,” says a tout for the show on its website.
Kelley — a friend of Petraeus and his wife, Holly — unwittingly set in motion the chain of events that led to the revelation that Petraeus was having an affair with Paula Broadwell, who co-wrote his biography. (Kelley went to the FBI after she received anonymous threatening e-mails, which the FBI traced to Broadwell.)
Kelley’s hiring of Smith triggered a New York Times Nov. 16 story on Smith headlined “Another Client for Ms. Fix-It.” The Washington Post on Nov. 22 featured Smith and other lawyers and media managers as the “power players” in the Petraeus saga.
Smith shot to fame herself when she represented Monica Lewinsky during the investigation of former President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment. Smith also has repped other scandalized figures, including former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and NFL player Michael Vick.
The Jackson lawyers
Besides battling bipolar disorder and depression since June, when Jackson disappeared, surfacing later at the Mayo Clinic, and the feds probing campaign spending, Jackson had hanging over him the continuing House Committee on Ethics investigation stemming from the Rod Blagojevich scandal.
Weingarten and Heberlig have been representing Jackson in that years-long House probe where the now-imprisoned former Illinois governor tried to “sell” the appointment to the Illinois Senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he was elected president.
Weingarten and Heberlig know the Jackson backstory.
They argued — in an 18-page letter sent Nov. 15, 2011, to the House Ethics Committee — that Jackson never violated any House rules, denying he tried to raise campaign cash for Blagojevich in exchange for the appointment, or improperly used House staffers to help him lobby for the Senate seat.
Jackson’s resignation means the committee has no power over him anymore — but it is not yet clear if the panel will issue a final report of its investigative conclusions.
Webb is a heavy in Chicago and Washington — a litigator who specializes in white-collar criminal and political corruption defense. The legal team said Wednesday in a statement it could take “several months” of negotiations with the prosecutorial team before Jackson’s status is resolved.
Jackson’s staffers stay on
Gov. Pat Quinn will be setting dates for a primary and general election to pick a new Second District of Illinois congressman. Until a new lawmaker is sworn-in, Jackson’s Washington and district staffers stay on the House payroll to provide constituent casework assistance and other services.
They will be supervised by the clerk of the House; under House rules, the clerk manages offices when a seat is vacated, whether by — and this is common — resignation or death — or the rare case of expulsion.