Korecki’s book: Jesse Jackson Jr. offered to arrange Blagojevich a pardon from Obama
September 10, 2012 10:58AM
Cover photo of the new e-book, "Only in Chicago," by Natasha Korecki
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:12AM
Rod Blagojevich once promised to bring reform to Illinois politics. The former governor now lives in a federal prison in Colorado, serving out his sentence for political corruption.
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Natasha Korecki followed every step of Blagojevich’s downfall.
She details his demise in a new book — Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois; Embroiled Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Jesse Jackson, Jr.; and Enthralled the Nation.
The book raises the question of whether Jesse Jackson Jr., the congressman son of the famed civil rights leader, plotted to arrange a pardon for Blagojevich from President Barack Obama.
Here is an excerpt:
It was the fall of 2008 and the highest law enforcement agent in the country headed to the Windy City. Sensitive wiretaps were up and FBI agents were covertly recording what could turn out to be a spectacular public corruption case. Chicago agents were working lengthy shifts, monitoring bugs and wired phones.
FBI Director Robert Mueller wanted to hear some of the tech cuts himself. Walking past piles of papers heaped on the desk of Robert Grant, Chicago FBI special agent in charge, in his near West Side office, Mueller settled in. He asked his bodyguards to leave the room. With only Mueller, Grant and top FBI supervisor Pete Cullen left, the tapes rolled. Mueller, who has overseen numerous terrorism and corruption cases at the bureau, listened to the conversations for the first time.
He stopped and looked up. Who was dropping all those f-bombs? he asked.
That’s the governor, he was told.
Mueller shook his head.
“Only in Chicago.”
More than an hour after U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s news conference, the Dirksen Federal Courtroom still teemed with reporters who packed into benches and into an empty jury box. They looked over the courtroom, trying to find a recognizable defense lawyer. Which high-profile attorney would handle this one? No one looked familiar . . .
Where was the governor?
Reporters whispered to each other. He wasn’t in the room. Then, in a surreal moment to many of those who had spent nearly seven months covering the trial of George Ryan, a side door of the courtroom leading to the prisoner holding area opened.
In came a different governor of Illinois.
Biting his lower lip, the bushy-headed Blagojevich quietly entered the courtroom without a smile. Wearing a tracksuit, he looked awkward in the formal setting of the wood-paneled room crowded with dark business suits.
. . . Reporters waited for Blagojevich to exit the courthouse, but he was allowed to leave through a secure entrance. He was still a sitting politician and with the governorship came a perk —he had his own security team from the Illinois State Police. In an increasingly volatile political climate, officials with the State Police were among the few who Blagojevich still trusted.
On the day of his arrest, court security deferred to the governor’s detail and allowed a backdoor departure from the building. Blagojevich made no public statements. He rode out of the courthouse’s basement in the back seat of a car driven by the State Police. A Sun-Times photographer was in the right spot to get a shot of the solemn-faced governor. Blagojevich was sunken in the back seat of the car, next to a window. That photo covered the entirety of the newspaper’s front page the next day. The headline: Shame
Raghu Nayak and his attorney, a former federal prosecutor named Thomas K. McQueen, were meeting with agents in a downtown office.
In that meeting, Nayak told authorities a dramatically different story. He said he approached the governor’s brother, Robert, at Jesse Jackson Jr.’s direction, on October 31, 2008, with a multimillion-dollar offer for the Senate seat.
The story went back to an October 8, 2008, visit to Washington D.C., where Nayak had gone for a special signing of the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Act at the White House. Nayak was a backer of this effort aimed at bringing electricity to rural India.
Before heading to the White House, though, he went to Jackson’s Washington D.C. home. Jackson called a limo to pick up the two for lunch, according to Nayak. Jackson wanted to go to the Cheesecake Factory. It was at this lunch when Nayak said Jackson started talking about the Senate seat. Nayak described Jackson as aggressive and power-hungry, talking about how easily he could raise campaign money if he were a U.S. senator.
He then made a proposal, according to Nayak: Jackson told Nayak to tell Blagojevich that if he named Jackson to the Senate seat, the Indian community in Chicago would raise $1 million for him. And, once Jackson was named to the Senate, he would raise another $5 million for Blagojevich.
We can’t raise that, Nayak said he told Jackson. It didn’t matter, Jackson told Nayak; tell Blagojevich that anyway.
But there was more to Jackson’s proposal. Jackson told Nayak to tell Blagojevich that the two of them could run on the same ticket in the next election, in 2010, and that Jackson would make sure that the Rev. James Meeks — who could potentially divide the black vote — didn’t challenge Blagojevich in the gubernatorial race.
Jackson also spoke of President Obama, according to Nayak. He told Nayak that he and Obama were close and that Obama would be willing to help Jackson. If it came to it, Jackson told Nayak he would leverage his friendship with Obama to get a pardon for Blagojevich, according to Nayak.
Jackson’s limo driver took Nayak directly to the White House, where the congressman and Nayak posed together for a picture in front of the White House gates. Nayak gave the feds a copy of the picture, and it would later be entered into evidence.