WASHINGTON — In a spectacular fall from political prominence, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife agreed Friday to plead guilty to federal charges growing out of what prosecutors said was a scheme to use $750,000 in campaign funds for lavish personal expenses, including a $43,000 gold watch and furs.
Federal prosecutors filed one charge of conspiracy against the former Chicago congressman and charged his ex-alderman wife, Sandra, with one count of filing false joint federal income tax returns for the years 2006 through 2011 that knowingly understated the income the couple received. Both agreed to plead guilty in deals with federal prosecutors.
Both face maximum penalties of several years in prison; he also faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and forfeitures. But the government did not immediately release the text of its plea agreements. Such agreements almost invariably call for prosecutors to recommend sentences below the maximum.
The son of a famed civil rights leader, Jackson, a Democrat, entered Congress in 1995 and resigned last November. Sandi, as she's known, was a Chicago alderman, but resigned last month amid the federal investigation.
Jackson used campaign money to buy such things as a $43,350 on a gold-plated, men's Rolex watch and $9,587.64 on children's furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the document said.
"I offer no excuses for my conduct, and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made," the ex-congressman said in a written statement released by his lawyers. "I want to offer my sincerest apologies ... for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for things that I did right."
Several messages left with Jackson's father, the voluble civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, were not returned Friday. The elder Jackson has often declined to comment about his son's health and legal woes over the past several months.
The government said, "Defendant Jesse L. Jackson Jr., willingly and knowingly, used approximately $750,000 from the campaign's accounts for personal expenses" that benefited him and his co-conspirator, who was not named in the one-count criminal information filed in the case. The filing of a criminal information means a defendant has waived the right to have a grand jury consider the case; it is used by federal prosecutors when they have reached a deal for a guilty plea.
The prosecutors' court filing said that upon conviction, Jackson must forfeit $750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia items and furs. The memorabilia includes a football signed by U.S. presidents, a Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen guitar, a Michael Jackson fedora, Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia, Malcolm X memorabilia, Jimi Hendrix memorabilia and Bruce Lee memorabilia — all from a company called Antiquities of Nevada.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and other penalties. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins is assigned to the case.
Tom Kirsch, an attorney for Jackson's wife said she has signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and would plead guilty to one tax count.
Kirsch said his client and her husband have supported each other. He said the episode has been stressful for Sandi Jackson, but she "expected to be held responsible ... and wants to put (it) behind her and her family."
The charge against Sandi Jackson carries a maximum of three-year prison sentence. But Kirsch says the agreement "does not contemplate a sentence of that length."
The court papers said that Jackson filed false financial reports with the U.S. House of Representatives in an attempt to conceal his and his wife's conversion of campaign funds for their personal benefit.
A black and red cashmere cape cost $1,500, a mink reversible parka cost $1,200 and a black fox reversible cost $1,500, prosecutors wrote.
According the government's court papers:
—Jackson and his wife carried out the scheme by using credit cards issued to Jackson's re-election campaigns to pay personal credit card bills for $582,772.58 in purchases by Jackson. Jackson provided his wife and a long-time campaign treasurer $112,150.39, solely for having the two carry out transactions that personally benefited Jackson.
—In a false filing with the House, the owner of an unidentified Alabama-based company issued a $25,000 check to pay down a balance on one of Jackson's personal credit cards. Jackson's financial disclosure statement with the House omitted the payment made on Jackson's behalf.
—In a false campaign filing with the Federal Election Commission, an unidentified treasurer for Jackson's campaigns reported that the campaign spent $1,553.09 at a Chicago Museum for "room rental-fundraiser." In fact, said the court papers, Jackson spent those funds to buy porcelain collector's items.
Jackson's resignation ended a once-promising political career tarnished by unproven allegations that he was involved in discussions to raise campaign funds for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for appointment — which never came — to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. The House Ethics Committee, which no longer has any power over Jackson, may choose to issue a report on the matter.
Jackson denied any wrongdoing in the Blagojevich matter. But the suspicions, along with revelations that he had had an extramarital affair, derailed any aspirations for higher political office. It wasn't clear from the court papers whether the woman with whom he had the affair was among the half dozen people identified the documents by letters of the alphabet rather than by their names.
Since last June, Jackson has been hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, and he stayed out of the public eye for months, even during the November elections. -- (AP)
CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Chicago Democrat who took a hushed medical leave two months ago, is being treated for bipolar disorder, the Mayo Clinic announced Monday.
The Rochester, Minn.-based clinic specified his condition as Bipolar II, which is defined as periodic episodes of depression and hypomania, a less serious form of mania.
"Congressman Jackson is responding well to the treatment and regaining his strength," the clinic said in a statement.
Bipolar II is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is likely caused "by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors," the clinic said. The statement also mentioned that Jackson underwent weight loss surgery in 2004 and said such a surgery can change how the body absorbs foods and medications, among other things.
The statement Monday was the most detailed to date about the congressman's mysterious medical leave, which began June 10. But it raised new questions about when the congressman can return to work.
A Jackson aide said last week that the congressman was expected back in the district within a matter of weeks, but Jackson's spokesmen declined to comment Monday.
His father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, wouldn't say much about the diagnosis.
"I'm glad he's getting the treatment he needs and is responding well," the elder Jackson said, adding that "there's no timetable" for his recovery.
Experts and mental health advocates say many people are able to work and function in their daily lives while managing treatment.
Treatment includes medication and psychotherapy, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The institute estimates about 5.7 million American adults suffer from the disorder, which can be a lifelong disease.
At least one other member of Congress has suffered from it while in office.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island has talked openly about his lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. He's was a leading voice in Congress for removing stigma linked with mental illness. The son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy was a congressman for 16 years and retired last year.
The younger Kennedy was arrested in 2006 after an early morning car crash near the U.S. Capitol that he said he could not remember. After spending a month at Mayo for treatment of addiction and depression, Kennedy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
"I had two of the biggest successes in politics after I went to treatment," Kennedy said, referring to getting nearly 70 percent of the re-election vote in 2006 and his legislative victory of getting a bill requiring mental health parity passed in 2008.
"It was because I ran toward the problem and not away from it. When I returned to my district, I spoke openly about it," he said.
Kennedy said he planned to visit Jackson on Thursday. He said he and Jackson had a lot in common: Both served on the House Appropriations Committee together and had famous fathers.
Jackson's office didn't announce his medical condition until nearly two weeks after he went on leave, and it initially described the problem as exhaustion. Later, his office disclosed that Jackson had "grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time." A statement from an unnamed doctor said Jackson had a "mood disorder."
Earlier this month, Jackson's office announced he was at Mayo and being treated for depression and gastrointestinal issues, after a transfer from the Sierra Tucson Treatment Center in Arizona.
Though the Mayo Clinic mentioned Jackson's weight loss surgery, its statement Monday stopped short of directly tying it to his mental health problems. Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Traci Klein declined to comment.
Dr. Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, said there is no evidence that the type of surgery Jackson had can cause bipolar disorder. A deficiency of the nutrient thiamine can cause a brain condition that could mimic bipolar disorder, Ponce said, but "bipolar disorder is totally different."
Jackson underwent a duodenal switch procedure in 2004, which involves removing part of the stomach and rearranging the intestine so less food is absorbed. He lost 50 pounds.
Dr. Vivek Prachand, associate professor of surgery at University of Chicago, said people already taking medications for depression can undergo weight loss surgery but may need their medications adjusted afterward. Prachand added that surgery is a drastic change that can trigger an episode in someone with a history of depression.
Jackson aide Rick Bryant said last week that Jackson appeared in good spirits and wanted him to push forward on projects in the district, which includes Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. Jackson, who first won office in 1995, is on the November ballot with two little-known candidates and is widely expected to win re-election.
The timing and manner in which the medical leave was handled has invited scrutiny.
Jackson is under a House Ethics Committee investigation for ties to imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Jackson's office announced his leave just days after a former fundraiser connected to the probe was arrested on federal medical fraud charges.
Jackson has denied wrongdoing. -- (AP)
CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the son of the civil rights leader, has returned to his home in Washington after treatment for depression at Mayo Clinic, Jackson's chief of staff in suburban Chicago said Friday.
"He's at home in Washington convalescing with his wife and children," Jackson aide Rick Bryant said. "Let's hope he returns to work on Monday."
Congress goes back into session Monday following its summer break.
Bryant said he's not sure exactly when the Illinois congressman was discharged. Mayo Clinic spokesman Chris Gade referred all questions to Jackson's office.
Jackson went on a secretive medical leave in June, when family members said he collapsed at home. His absence was all the more notable due to the high public profile of his father, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who made bids to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.
His office said in August that he was being treated at Mayo because of depression, after a transfer from the Sierra Tucson Treatment Center in Arizona.
The clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has said Jackson was being treated for Bipolar II, which means he was suffering from periodic episodes of depression and hypomania. Hypomania is a less serious form of mania.
Former Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who also has dealt with bipolar disorder and been treated at Mayo, said after visiting Jackson at the clinic last month that the current congressman has "a lot of work" ahead of him on the road to recovery.
He said Jackson was taking his depression seriously and will have to learn how to treat his illness.
Kennedy, who served with Jackson on the House Appropriations Committee, left Congress last year. He has been an outspoken advocate for mental health and spoken publicly about his own struggles.
In their few public comments about Jackson's illness, family members pointed to the stress of his job and political disappointments over the years. Jackson first won office in 1995, and had his sights set on being a U.S. senator or Chicago's mayor. Those hopes dimmed in the wake of allegations about his connections to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a prison sentence for corruption.
The timing of the medical leave has invited more scrutiny on that front.
A pending House Ethics Committee investigation focuses on allegations that Jackson discussed raising money for Blagojevich's campaign so the then-Illinois governor would appoint him to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Jackson's office announced his medical leave days after a former fundraiser connected to the allegations was arrested on unrelated federal medical fraud charges.
Jackson hasn't been charged and denies any wrongdoing. -- (AP)
Democrats and Republicans chant in unison “jobs, jobs, jobs.” President Obama offers an American Jobs plan, but Republicans use the filibuster in the Senate to kill it and a Republican majority will not consider it in the House. House Democrats offered a heftier jobs bill, but it is ignored by the majority in control. Republicans offer more of the same — tax cuts for the rich whom they call “job creators” — but they have put no actual jobs plan on the table.
As a result, 15 million Americans still languish, officially unemployed, with another 10 million underemployed or so discouraged they have stopped looking for work.
One of the leading Republican candidates for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is an advocate of Tenth Amendment (states’ rights) solutions and we are suspicious of anyone advocating Tenth Amendment solutions because that amendment protected the peculiar institution. Further, the Tenth Amendment solutions guy was also found to have taken friends, colleagues and contributors hunting on a ranch widely known by the name on a rock at its entrance called Niggerhead.
While in the past, unacceptable language used by Minister Louis Farrakhan was overwhelmingly condemned by a House resolution, Republicans voted down a similar resolution that would have condemned Governor Perry for taking his friends to hunt at a place with a racially offensive name.
Republicans protect their own from charges of racism and the press doesn’t vigorously pursue the issue because Herman Cain says, “it’s time to move on,” and if he, as an African American, isn’t upset, why should others be perturbed? And Democrats don’t want to discuss it because it’s a distraction from their jobs message.
But what if not condemning racism when it raises its ugly head is actually diverting and delaying the jobs discussion? What if Herman Cain’s presence in the race is actually camouflaging the fact that President Obama’s jobs plan (and virtually anything else he proposes) is actually being blocked, not just by conservatives, but by white conservative Republicans determined to use any means necessary, including race — as both Republicans and Democrats have done in the past — to defeat America’s first African-American president? If Herman Cain were not in the race, could the press really ignore Gov. Perry’s hunting site with no apology for its name or use?
Why is the word so offensive? Historically, the use of the “N-word” by whites often preceded an act of violence by the perpetrator(s) (e.g., hanging) or by the victim responding. Viola Liuzzo and Rev. James Reeb were called N-word lovers before they were murdered. Most recently, James Anderson was murdered in Mississippi ,and the young white perpetrator reportedly said, “I ran that n****r over.”
If the American people were to conclude that white Republicans — not just conservative Republicans — were actively working to defeat Barack Obama because of his race, they would overwhelmingly reject the Republican Party, its candidates and proposals, and understand more clearly a Republican strategy of blockage and obstinacy.
The heart and soul of “conservatism” is the South. When racism was rampant, it was the solid Democratic South. In today’s “post-racial” society it’s the solid Republican South — minus the African- and Hispanic-American congressional districts. But why would the poorest, least educated, most ill-housed and most unhealthy region of the country be solidly conservative? Conserving such poverty seems unnatural. So what are the people of the South conserving?
Clearly, historically, the rich — be they slave-owners or possessors’ of other wealth or power — were conserving their privilege. They used the fear of Blacks to manipulate whites and Blacks politically to keep them separated, and from rebelling and joining forces to fight their mutual state of unemployment, poverty, lack of health care, housing and education.
Poor whites were not told the truth about the Civil War — that they were fighting to protect the slave-owners’ economic self-interest. Instead they were told they were fighting for states’ rights. Rather than join the Civil Rights Movement for social, economic and political equality for all in the ’60s, poor whites were told to stay away because African Americans were being manipulated by “communists” and “socialists” like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and now Obama.
So when the first 15 presidents avoided resolving the race issue the result was an explosion, the American Civil War. And when white politicians know the American weakness on race, and exploit it politically, we can never really get to the jobs discussion.
Dealing with and getting beyond “Niggerhead” may actually be the key to addressing the needs of the American people and unlocking a real discussion on jobs.
Jesse L. Jackson Jr., (D), is the representative for Illinois’ 2nd congressional district.
CHICAGO — Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a once rising political star who has been on a mysterious medical leave for months for treatment of bipolar disorder, has resigned from Congress, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday.
Jackson's resignation and hushed absence from politics comes amid a continuing House Ethics Committee investigation into his dealings with imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, along with reports of a new federal probe into possible misuse of campaign money.
Boehner's spokesman Michael Steele said his office received a resignation letter from Jackson but did not comment further.
Jackson, 47, disappeared in June, and it was later revealed that he was being treated at the Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder and gastrointestinal issues. He returned to his Washington home in September, but went back to the clinic the next month, with his father saying his son had not yet "regained his balance." He left the clinic a second time earlier this month.
His return to the clinic in October came amid reports that he faced a new federal investigation into potential misuse of campaign funds. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the probe, citing anonymous sources. An FBI spokesman in Washington, Andrew Ames, has told The Associated Press he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a federal investigation into Jackson.
Jackson was easily re-elected on Nov. 6 representing his heavily-Democratic district, even though his only communication with voters was a robocall asking them for patience. He spent election night at the Mayo Clinic, but later issued a statement thanking his supporters and saying he was waiting for his doctors' OK before he could "continue to be the progressive fighter" they'd known for years.
Jackson, whose father is the Rev. Jesse Jackson, took office in 1995 after winning a special election in a landslide. Voters in the district have said Jackson's family name and attention to local issues have been the reasons for their support. He's easily won every election since taking office and brought home close to $1 billion in federal money for his district during his tenure.
He began his career in Washington with a star power that set him apart from his hundreds of House colleagues. But his resignation ends a once-promising political career that was tarnished by unproven allegations that he was involved in discussions about raising campaign funds for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating reports of those allegations, which Jackson has denied. After the allegations surfaced, he cut back drastically on his number of public appearances and interviews. Blagojevich is now imprisoned on corruption charges that accused him of trying to sell the seat, among other things.
The timing of Jackson's leave and the way it was handled also has invited scrutiny. Jackson's leave was announced just after a former fundraiser connected to the Blagojevich allegations was arrested on unrelated medical fraud charges.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has five days to schedule an election to replace Jackson after he receives official notice, and the election must be held within 115 days, according to election officials.
The vacancy left by Jackson's departure creates a rare opportunity for someone else to represent his district, which is made up of South Side Chicago neighborhoods, several southern suburbs and some rural areas. Even this year, when Jackson was absent during the crucial final months of campaigning, he easily defeated two challengers on the ballot, Republican college professor Brian Woodworth and Independent postal worker Marcus Lewis. -- (AP)
There are many questions and a lot of speculation about Rep Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., these days concerning his whereabouts, and whether he will resign or continue to hold his congressional seat. There is also speculation about a House Ethics Committee investigation into his alleged misuse of campaign funds that has now expanded to include his wife, Sandi.
Jackson, 47, who won re-election on Nov. 6, checked himself out of the Mayo Clinic on Nov. 13 and hasn’t been seen publicly since. He’s been on medical leave since June, allegedly for bipolar disorder and other health issues, but in the interim, there’s been no word about if he is going to return to work.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, among others, have both said Jackson needs to show his face, and at least explain to the people who re-elected him what’s going on.
“It has reached that point, and I have tried to be sympathetic and understanding - because I believe that mental illness is in fact an illness," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. in an interview with WDWS 1400, a Champaign, Ill. radio station. “It can be treated and should be taken seriously, and I stand behind those who are struggling with it, but there are so many issues that are emerging here and he is a public figure, and there reaches a point where he has to square what is being said about him with the reality of his life and he has to step up and say more.”
Jackson’s latest departure from the public forum follows the continuing House Ethics Committee investigation into allegations that he used campaign finances to remodel his home and purchase a $40,000 Rolex watch for a female friend. There are also questions into his reported dealings with deposed and imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His leave of absence coincided with that investigation. According to reports, the House Ethics Committee is investigating whether Jackson and his associates discussed raising money for Blagojevich in exchange for the then-governor appointing Jackson to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich is now imprisoned on charges that he tried to sell the position.
It has also been reported that Jackson is negotiating a guilty plea deal with the United States Department of Justice over the allegations that he funneled campaign funds for personal use.
Jackson, who was re-elected to the House of Representatives despite his legal problems and health issues, could face jail time if there is sufficient evidence against him.
"My deep and sincere thanks to the people of the 2nd Congressional District, I am humbled and moved by the support shown today," Jackson said in a prepared statement following his re-election. "Every day, I think about your needs and concerns. Once the doctors approve my return to work, I will continue to be the progressive fighter you have known for years. My family and I are grateful for your many heartfelt prayers and kind thoughts. I continue to feel better every day and look forward to serving you."
The son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson took medical leave around the same time that a colleague, Raghuveer Nayak, was arrested on 17 counts of fraud. Nayak testified during the trial for Blagojevich that he was authorized by Jackson to offer the governor as much as $6 million for the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama. Jackson denied the allegations.
“I’ve committed and participated in no such scheme. It’s been a thorough investigation. And I think the investigation has revealed that,” Jackson said in a published report. He was never charged in the case although a House Ethics Committee continues to investigate.
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., has been away from Congress on medical leave for so long that his colleagues have been clamoring to know what’s wrong, and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that the congressman was receiving treatment for addiction. The truth, according the Rep. Jackson’s staff, is that the congressman is being treated in a residential facility for exhaustion and mood disorders.
Why not say that in the first place?
Because divulging one’s mental health status is often the kiss of death in politics and public life. It may be okay in Hollywood to speak of exhaustion, mood swings, and other mental health issues. In that world, treatment is often followed by a late night talk show interview and a career revival. In contrast, any politician who has come out of the closet about his or her mental health gets anything but a hard time.
Senator Thomas Eagleton, D-Mo., who had been elected to local, state and national office for more than a decade, briefly joined the McGovern presidential ticket in 1972. When his medical records were leaked, Eagleton was pushed from the Democratic ticket, because he had long-standing mental health problems.
Eagleton checked into hospitals three times for physical and nervous exhaustion, was known to have suffered from depression, and reportedly received electroconvulsive therapy twice. While his mental health history was not part of the public record, his hospitalizations led to speculation that he had a drinking problem. Still, he was so effective as a campaigner and politician that he unseated an incumbent Democrat in his race for the United States Senate.
When George McGovern learned that Eagleton had taken the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine, and his doctors had spoken of his “manic depression,” McGovern initially supported Eagleton. However, when McGovern learned that Eagleton’s depression could return, he asked Eagleton to withdraw from the ticket and he complied.
Even though 77 percent of the American people said Eagleton’s medical record would not affect their vote, Republican opposition was geared up to attack McGovern because of Eagleton’s mental health status, and the press showed their ignorance by rather cavalierly referring to Eagleton’s “shock therapy.” Since men are far less likely to seek treatment for mental health issues than women are, Eagleton showed amazing self-awareness to seek help. He perhaps did not reveal more, and sooner, because he understood the public perceptions, and thus the negative consequences of being open about mental health.
Fast-forward 40 years to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Many would argue that we’ve come along way on mental health awareness, but some would argue the point. Many health plans do not even bother to cover mental health, and if they do, it is covered for a limited number of sessions. Having mental health problems is still enough of a stigma for some professionals to pay for mental health out of their pocket rather than have their mental health treatment be a matter of record. Comedians and others joke that when someone appears to behave erratically (or in some cases, extremely mindfully), they must be “off their meds.” The stigma remains, and it is stronger in the African-American community than the majority community.
Tell an African-American friend or colleague about feeling down for more than a week or so (two weeks of down moods is one sign of depression), and he or she will tell you to pray on it. “God will help you through it,” they will say.
But the Lord helps those who help themselves, and sometimes the help needed won’t be found on your knees. Or, the response to manic episodes is “Child, you so crazy,” as if that is a badge of honor, not a sign that help is needed. Every indicator we have of mental health utilization suggests that African Americans are less likely to seek help than their white counterparts, and while some of it may have to do with cost, some of it has to do with stigma.
As widely as post-partum depression is known and discussed, African-American women are only half as likely to seek help as white women. Study after study reports the underutilization of mental health services among African Americans.
Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders than men are, which puts another burden on men. Indeed, African-American men with mood disorders are more likely to rely on informal support systems or to forgo treatment than they are to seek help. Thus, a 2011 study from the School of Social Work at Michigan State University concludes that there is an unmet need for mental health services among African-American men.
It is as unfortunate that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been hospitalized for mood disorders as it would be if he were hospitalized for another illness. The fact that he has shared his mental health status may allow Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, to come out of the closet about mental health. — (NNPA)
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
News has recently surfaced that Jesse Jackson Jr., the famed son of the civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., has taken a leave of absence from Congress for an undisclosed medical condition. Congressman Jackson taking a leave of absence for a medical situation is nothing new in Congress. In fact, it’s nothing new as it relates to any human being falling ill and needing to take off from work for a period of time to get better. That’s what most people expect. What most people do not expect, and I what I find baffling, is the way this news is being treated by the congressman and his office.
To be clear, every person, regardless of his or her public position, deserves a certain zone of privacy. For example, I thought it was distasteful when medical doctors went on national television after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer diagnosis and confidently predicted that he only had about a year to live. They were right, unfortunately, but they had no right to say that publicly, which went against the wishes of the Kennedy family.
So there needs to be a balance. A balance between the public’s right to know the general health and well-being of their elected officials, and the elected officials’ right to have some sort of medical privacy for their own dignity and out of concern for their families. By issuing vague statements such as “physical and emotional ailments,” Jackson’s office does nothing but fan the flames of pesky reporters, who have been spun before by his colleagues such as Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., Eric Massa, D-N.Y., David Wu, D-Ore. and Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., all of whom issued vague statements about their personal health or conduct under the umbrella of “privacy for my family” only to fan the flames and resign shortly thereafter.
The general public, the congressman’s constituents in Chicago and the Democratic House leadership want to know. I don’t believe the general public wants to know because they’re nosy, but because they care. Intuitively, people care about people, and people want to know that a high-profile figure with a famous namesake is doing OK. The congressman’s constituents’ want to know because they too, care about his health, but also, they want a healthy representative speaking on behalf of them in Washington, and that’s their right. The Democratic leadership wants to know, because this has become a political distraction, and they want it to end quickly and refocus all of their efforts on defeating Mitt Romney and retaking the House. “I think Congressman Jackson and his office and his family would be well advised to advise the constituents of his condition. He’s obviously facing a health problem. We have many members who are out right now.
“This is not an unusual circumstance. People get sick, and when people get sick, they miss work. Everybody in America understands that. But I think the family would be well advised to give his constituents as much information as is appropriate,” said Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who is the number two Democrat in the House, and whose comments were an about-face from a day earlier where he initially expressed general support of the congressman’s handling of the situation.
Something abnormal is happening here, and I suspect that there is more to the story, than we actually know. If history is guide, we know that the truth will come out sooner than later, and as always, we will be scratching our heads wondering why his office just did not come out and tell the truth on the onset, as opposed to covering it up. The cover-up is always worse than the actual misdeed.
Follow Robert Traynham on Twitter @roberttraynham.
WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., holding back tears, entered a guilty plea Wednesday in federal court to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. He faces 46 to 57 months in prison, and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, under a plea deal with prosecutors.
A few hours later, his wife, Sandra Jackson, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. She faces one to two years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $40,000.
Before entering the plea to a conspiracy charge, Jesse Jackson told U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, "I've never been more clear in my life" in his decision to plead guilty.
Later, when Wilkins asked if Jackson committed the acts outlined in court papers, the former congressman replied, "I did these things." He added later, "Sir, for years I lived in my campaign," and used money from the campaign for personal use.
Jackson dabbed his face with tissues, and at point a court employee brought some tissues to Jackson's lawyer, who gave them to the ex-congressman. Jackson told the judge he was waiving his right to trial.
"In perfect candor, your honor, I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers' time or money," he said.
Jackson had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 28, and his wife on July 1. Wilkins, who presided over both guilty pleas, is not bound by the terms of the plea agreements. Both Jacksons are free until sentencing.
Since last June, Jesse Jackson has been hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, and he stayed out of the public eye for months, even during the November elections. His attorney said after the court appearance that Jackson's health is "not an excuse" for his actions, "just a fact."
Jackson entered the courtroom holding hands with his wife and looking a bit dazzled as he surveyed the packed room. He kissed his wife and headed to the defense table.
Jackson's father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, sat in the front row. Before the hearing started, he wrote notes on a small piece of paper. When the proceedings started, he sat expressionless and virtually motionless, hands folded. As he made his way back to the courtroom for Sandra Jackson's hearing, he took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. Several other family members also attended.
Jesse Jackson Jr., wearing a blue shirt and blue-patterned tie and gray suit, answered a series of questions from the judge, mostly in a muffled tone. When the judge asked if he had consumed any drugs or alcohol in the previous 24 hours, Jackson said he had a beer Tuesday night.
As the proceedings wound up, Jackson sat at the defense table, furrowed his brow and shook his head, in what looked like an expression of disbelief. After the hearing was adjourned, he walked over to his wife, grabbed her hand, and then was greeted by his father. Jackson Jr. patted his father on the back a few times.
"Tell everybody back home I'm sorry I let them down, OK?" Jackson told Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet, according to her Tweet from the scene.
Sandra Jackson, 49, wearing a black pantsuit, sobbed visibly during her court hearing, as her husband watched from the row behind the defense table. Sandi, as she's known, was a Chicago alderman before she resigned last month during the federal investigation.
Jesse Jackson Jr., 47, used campaign money to buy items including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch and $9,587.64 worth of children's furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the court documents said. Under the plea deal, Jackson must forfeit $750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia items and furs.
More details emerged in a 22-page statement compiled by prosecutors, filed Wednesday, in which Jackson admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772.58 from 2005 through April of last year. Personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges cost $60,857.04. Personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges cost $16,058.91, including maintaining a family membership at a gym. Personal spending for alcohol cost $5,814.43. Personal spending for dry cleaning cost $14,513.42.
Among the individual purchases made with campaign credit cards:
—A $466 dinner for two of "a personal nature" at Mandarin Oriental's CityZen restaurant.
—A washer, a dryer, a range and a refrigerator for the Jacksons' Chicago home.
—Multiple flat-screen televisions, multiple Blu-Ray DVD players and numerous DVDs for their Washington, D.C., home.
—A five-day health retreat for one of Mrs. Jackson's relatives.
—Stuffed animals and accessories for them.
—Goods at Costco, from video games to toilet paper.
According to the prosecution's court papers, Jackson even arranged for the use of campaign money to buy two mounted elk heads for his congressional office. Last summer, as the FBI closed in, a Jackson staffer identified only as "Person A" tried to arrange for the sale of the elk heads, but the FBI was one step ahead. The bureau had an undercover FBI employee contact the staffer, claiming to be an interior designer who had received the person's name from a taxidermist and inquiring whether there were elk heads for sale. They agreed on a price of $5,300.
Jackson's wife, knowing that the elk heads had been purchased with campaign funds, directed the staffer to move the elk heads from Washington to Chicago and to instruct the sale contact to wire the proceeds to her husband's personal account.
Over the years, the unidentified "Person A" provided significant help to the Jacksons in carrying out the scheme. Jackson used the aide for many different bill-paying activities, including paying construction contractors for work on Jackson's Washington home.
From 2008 through last March, Jackson's re-election campaign issued $76,150.39 in checks to the staff member, who was entitled to only $11,400 for work done for the campaign. The aide spent the remainder of the funds from the campaign for the Jacksons.
One of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s lawyers, Reid H. Weingarten, told reporters after the hearing that there's reason for optimism.
"A man that talented, a man that devoted to public service, a man who's done so much for so many, has another day. There will be another chapter in Jesse Jackson's life," he said.
Weingarten said that his client has "serious health issues. And those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact. And Jesse's turned the corner there as well. There's reason for optimism here too. Jesse's gotten great treatment, he's has great doctors, and I think he's gotten his arms around his problem."
As the hearing for Jackson got under way Wednesday, newly filed court papers disclosed that the judge had offered to disqualify himself from handling the cases against Jackson and his wife.
As a Harvard Law School student, Wilkins said he had supported the presidential campaign of Jackson's father and that as an attorney in 1999, Wilkins had been a guest on a show hosted by Jackson's father.
Prosecutors and lawyers for the couple said they were willing to proceed with the cases with Wilkins presiding. Judicial ethics require that a judge disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. -- (AP)
Even in Chicago, a city whose political community is not easily shocked by allegations of corruption, the resignation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. comes as a bit of a stunner.
The word "promising" keeps popping up again and again in news reports as in, for example, this Reuters headline: "Promising Political Scion Resigns."
Triple-J was showing promise ever since his first national appearance, onstage at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta with his four siblings, introducing their father at the end of his second presidential run. It was a moment of liberal triumph in the decade of Ronald Reagan. Even the haters of their dad's politics loved those kids.
Seven years later, the Junior Jackson won the special election that followed the resignation of then-Rep. Mel Reynolds, another once-promising star. The Rhodes scholar crashed amid charges of having sexual relations with an underage campaign worker. No, Chicago is not unaccustomed to scandal.
For many, Jackson's youth, idealism and cheerful salesmanship seemed to offer hope of a new transformational politics for the new century. He was handily re-elected again and again, always keeping reporters and pundits in constant front-leaning speculation about what he would pursue next. Mayor? Senator? Beyond?
Talk of a presidential run ended when his friend and senator, Barack Obama, beat him to the White House. Still, the Junior Jackson remained a man of promise.
Then a dark cloud of suspicion rolled in. Justice Department investigators have been looking into Jackson's possible misuse of campaign funds and the House Ethics Committee is investigating his dealings with ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now serving time for federal corruption offenses.
Worse, he's been on leave since June, during which he has been in treatment at the Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder.
Yet he resigned two weeks after winning a landslide re-election, despite having no visible campaign or public appearances. His constituents would rather take their chances with an absentee Jackson, his supporters tell me, than with another candidate that they did not know as well.
His resignation could end the Ethics Committee probe, which has been looking into whether he promised to raise campaign money for Blagojevich in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama. The committee could still decide to release a final report on Jackson, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but it no longer has the power to punish him.
And his legal team, which includes former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, confirmed news reports that a plea bargain was in the works. His resignation letter acknowledges the Justice Department investigation for the first time and accepts responsibility for "mistakes" that are "my mistakes and mine alone."
"Whom the gods wish to destroy," a British writer famously said, "they first make promising." In the case of Jesse Junior, those words sound sadly prophetic. He was always so promising that it was hard to tell how much of his support came from his modest legislative achievements vs. the lofty hopes and ambitions he symbolized.
As the namesake son of the nation's best-known civil rights leader since the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Triple-J tried to be "postracial" before postracial was cool. The junior Jackson proposed a new generation of Black leadership that could transcend race and hold itself accountable to actual votes, not just to cheering crowds.
But his larger personal ambitions often were held back ironically by the high name recognition that gave him such a valuable boost.
"Your name," I asked him during a conversation in his congressional office a couple of years ago. "Do you view it as a blessing or a curse?"
"It's both," he declared, after a moment of thought. His efforts to broaden his base often ran up against his father's controversial reputation. That's politics — which can be pitiless.
His story of mental illness is particularly sad. My sympathies go out to him and his family.
Some skeptics find his treatment to be a bit too conveniently timed with his legal troubles. Maybe. But he would not be the first rising start who found the pressures of his own promise to be too much to bear.