Where is Jesse Jackson Jr.? As absence lengthens, pressure mounts.
For six weeks, Chicago voters have wondered about Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s whereabouts. With no word from the congressman about his 'mood disorder,' questions are growing sharper.
M. Spencer Green/AP/File
Where is Jesse Jackson Jr.?
The question is now in its sixth week after the Illinois congressman disappeared from the public eye due to what his office is calling a “mood disorder.”
The diagnosis was released by his office only last week. The delay in diagnosis, and his office's refusal to provide any additional details such as who is treating him, has increased the political pressure on Jackson at a time he was already facing legal challenges as a result of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
Fellow congressional Democrats from Illinois have urged Mr. Jackson to be more forthcoming about his absence, which began June 10. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez have noted that Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois, who suffered a stroke in January, kept his constituents up-to-date on his progress via regular postings on his website.
“As a public official ... there reaches a point when you have a responsibility to tell people what you're facing and how things are going, Senator Durbin said.
The pressure for more disclosure on Jackson's health takes place as the House Ethics Committee investigates Jackson over charges that he improperly raised funds for imprisoned Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The charge is that he was seeking to influence the governor to appoint him to the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president.
Jackson's legal situation was complicated by the arrest last month of Raghuveer Nayak, a Jackson family friend who owned several outpatient surgery centers in the Chicago area. He was charged with 19 federal counts for allegedly defrauding patients. Mr. Nayak says he is not guilty
Nayak is cooperating with the House Ethics Committee, according to reports in The Chicago Tribune. Nayak’s name surfaced in 2010 in the first of two trials of Mr. Blagojevich.
In wiretap recordings, Blagojevich is heard describing Nayak, a long-time campaign fundraiser, as an “emissary” for Jackson.
Prosecutors said Nayak met with Jackson in a downtown Loop restaurant on Oct. 28, 2008, where they say Nakak discussed the possibility of Jackson raising at least $1 million to influence the Senate selection in his favor. Robert Blagojevich, the governor’s brother, also testified that Nayak approached him on Oct. 31, 2008, and said Jackson was willing to raise $6 million in fundraisers for the governor. Robert Blagojevich also provided five hours of testimony related to Jackson to the House Ethics Committee in April.
"Based on what I know, I believe Jesse Jackson Jr. has a lot of unanswered questions that he needs to answer,” Robert Blagojevich told the Chicago Sun-Times late last year. Jackson has denied any wrongdoing.
Through a letter to the House committee released by his lawyer late last year, Jackson acknowledged meeting with Nayak but said “at no time during the meeting [did he] ever authorize or overhear any offer by Nayak to raise campaign funds for Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate seat.”
He went on to describe Nayak as “incredibly misguided.”
Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert on public corruption in Illinois, says that the pending Nayak trial will likely probe “whether [Jackson] instigated the attempt to bribe Blagojevich or was part of the process.”
It is uncertain when the House committee will release its finding but Mr. Simpson predicts Jackson will be censured. “I don’t think there is evidence to expel him from Congress,” he says.