Jesse Jackson, Jr. emphatically denied that he was a target in the federal investigation of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "I reject and denounce pay to play politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrong doing," Jackson said. "I did not initiate or authorize anyone, at anytime, to promise anything to governor Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, or plea my case, or to propose a deal about a US Senate seat. Period."
Earlier in the day Jesse Jackson Jr.'s attorney confirmed that he was the "Senate Candidate #5" mentioned in the indictment.
HuffPost's Sam Stein has more on Jackson Jr.'s press conference.
Jackson Jr. also used the press conference to tout his credentials for the Senate position and engage in a little campaigning: "I got the idea that if a skinny kid with a funny name could be president of the United States, then a short kid with a somewhat controversial but certainly a high profile name, could be a Senator from Illinois."
Watch the press conference:
NBC News is now reporting, along with ABC News, that "Senate Candidate #5" is Jesse Jackson Jr.:
A law enforcement official confirms that the person referred to in the federal criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich as "Candidate 5" is Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
However, federal officials caution that they have no evidence, other than statements made by Blagojevich, about whether Candidate 5 actually made any improper approaches to the governor. No conversations with Candidate 5 were ever picked up on any of the bugs or wiretaps.
***UPDATE*** 12:00pm EST
The Chicago Sun-Times is also reporting that Jesse Jackson, Jr. is "Senate Candidate #5," according to sources.
Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) is the anonymous "Senate Candidate #5" whose emissaries Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich reportedly claimed offered up to a million dollars to name him to the U.S. Senate, federal law enforcement sources tell ABC News. [...]
Jackson Jr. said this morning he was contacted yesterday by federal prosecutors in Chicago who he said "asked me to come in and share with them my insights and thoughts about the selection process."
Jackson Jr. said "I don't know" when asked if he was Candidate #5, but said he was told "I am not a target of this investigation."
Jackson Jr. said he agreed to talk with federal investigators "as quickly as possible" after he consults with a lawyer.
The Congressman, a son of the famed civil rights leader, denied that anyone had been authorized to make payments or promises to the Governor on his behalf.
For those wanting to weigh the evidence in greater detail, The Hill has a useful summary of the clues that have emerged regarding the identity of candidates 1-6 in the indictment.
One of the many questions swirling around the Blagojevich indictment announced today is the identity of "Senate Candidate 5," the official who may have approached the Governor about the possibility of 'pay to play' for Obama's Senate seat.
From the indictment:
On December 4, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke to Advisor B and informed Advisor B that he was giving Senate Candidate 5 greater consideration for the Senate seat because, among other reasons, if ROD BLAGOJEVICH ran for re-election Senate Candidate 5 would "raise money" for ROD BLAGOJEVICH, although ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he might "get some (money) up front, maybe" from Senate Candidate 5 to insure Senate Candidate 5 kept his promise about raising money for ROD BLAGOJEVICH. (In a recorded conversation on October 31, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH described an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate Five as follows: "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.")"
The American Prospect has put together a guide to what is known about each senate candidate (1-6) named in the indictment.
Marc Ambinder speculates that it's Jesse Jackson, Jr.
From the context, it's probably either Jesse Jackson. Jr. or Emil Jones, Jr.
"Later on December 4, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke to Fundraiser A. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated he was "elevating" Senate Candidate 5 on the list of candidates for the open Senate seat. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated he might be able to cut a deal with
Senate Candidate 5 that provided ROD BLAGOJEVICH with something
"tangible up front." ROD BLAGOJEVICH noted he was going to meet with
Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days."
The only candidate with whom Blagojevich met within that period was Jesse Jackson, Jr.
The New Republic's Jason Zengarle questions questions Ambinder's theory -- "that doesn't seem right to me, since it's also clear from the complaint that Blago believed Obama was opposed to Candidate 5. I can't think of any reason why Obama would oppose Jesse Junior moving over to the Senate"--adding that the Smoking Gun may be on to something by naming Emil Jones, Jr.
Obama's relationship with Jones (who, btw, is a sworn enemy of Jesse Junior's) is much, much more complex. Yes, Obama famously cultivated Jones as his political godfather in the State Senate, but that's always seemed like one of those relationships that Obama was happy to leave behind in Springfield. Given some of the baggage that comes with Jones's old-school, machine ways--a number of his family members are on the public payroll, and he's worked hard to make sure his son inherits his legislative seat--I could see how Obama might not want Jones in Washington. What's more, Brad Plumer calls my attention to this post from the Capitol Fax blog, which points out that Jones was mentioned by Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed a few days after Blago discussed leaking Candidate 5's name, and that Jones has a huge war chest, so it wouldn't be hard for him to come up with $500k.
Ben Smith of Politico lays out a number of clues on Senate candidate 5 to ponder:
Here's what we know. Candidate 5 is:
-"publicly reported to be interested in the open Senate seat"
- not who Blagojevich thought Obama wanted
- not someone with whom, by November 10, Blagojevich had a "long, productive discussion"
- someone with fundraising wherewithal who could produce something "tangible up front"
- someone Blago was "getting a lot of pressure" not to appoint
- someone with whom Blago had "a prior bad experience...not keeping his word"
Who might it be? Let us know your theories.