Last week the House Ethics Committee, according to the law and its on-going responsibility, released several items, including a 24-page report (plus exhibits) gathered in 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Independent of the House of Representatives, the OCE gathers information as a separate entity with no compulsory process -- e.g., it collects newspaper clippings and court filings and conducts voluntary interviews - and sends its findings to the House Ethics Committee.
The House Ethics Committee released four items - not just one -- which included the OCE's 24-page initial report which contained information gathered in 2009 regarding whether the House Ethics Committee should launch a full investigation into whether I attempted to illegally "buy" the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-Senator Barack Obama after he was elected President.
There was nothing of substance actually new in the 24-page document, only more detailed information that contained sensationalized language previously printed in newspaper articles from 2009, such as "probable cause to believe," "substantial reason," "directed a third party," and "had knowledge." The OCE is a "fact gathering" entity, not an investigative body, and it has no power to compel testimony from anyone. Both the U.S. Attorney and the House Ethics Committee can legally compel testimony -- and the U.S. Attorney exercised that power in the Blagojevich investigation and in two trials, an investigation in which I fully cooperated. Most of the media reports about the documents released by the House Ethics Committee focused on this old history (which the press determined was the new "news") in the 2009 24-page report.
It was reported as if this old document contained new up-to-date information; and as though the full investigation of Blagojevich and his two criminal trials had not occurred - with all of the information we learned before, during and after both trials -- including the fact that, to date, the Justice Department investigation has not resulted in any criminal charges being filed against me.
In other words, an OCE report that merely gathered voluntarily-disclosed information (in 2009), and concededly lacked information from numerous sources who (unlike me and my staff) declined to cooperate with OCE, had greater sway with reporters than a thorough and full investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice with full authority under the law to investigate, wire tap, compel testimony and cut deals with witnesses to tell the truth on the witness stand in exchange for shorter sentences - all of which the Justice Department used in an indictment, two trials and their conviction of former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
In reporting the story, almost all of the focus was on what the 2009 report contained - which is, of course, what triggered the House Ethics Committee investigation three years ago in the first place. However, at the request of the Justice Department, the House Ethics Committee temporarily suspended its inquiry while the investigation and two trials of Governor Blagojevich were being conducted.
Of the four items released, the document that did actually contain "new" - and the most newsworthy - information was a 17-page document that, for the first time, publicly contained my story. It was my official response, through my lawyers, to the unproven allegations in the OCE report. Some reporting included this new positive news, but all led with the old negative news.
The House Ethics Committee (with the OCE report and findings in hand) had three options: (a) dismiss it and declare their work finished; (b) continue an informal review of the allegations; or (c) move forward with a deeper and full-scale investigation into the allegations by forming an Investigative Subcommittee. The House ethics investigation is continuing and the Committee could have chosen the third and more serious option, but so far it hasn't. It chose the second option instead - continuing to review and investigate the matter. For example, I can imagine if they had chosen the first without interviewing Robert Blagojevich as he has requested, and maybe others, the press would now be saying, "What kind of investigation was that? They didn't even hear what Robert Blagojevich had to say. They didn't make Jackson answer the unanswered questions Robert Blagojevich says he has." I am curious, however, as to what questions he has and what he's going to tell the House Ethics Committee that he didn't say to the U.S. Attorney or the FBI.
With regard to Robert Blagojevich - who was a criminal defendant in the first trial - I do not know him and I have never had a conversation with him. However, more importantly, I didn't even know he existed until I read about him in the newspaper the morning after Governor Rod Blagojevich was indicted. I could not have sent anyone to meet and cut a deal with Robert Blagojevich because I didn't even know that Governor Blagojevich had a brother.
Those who read the 24-page OCE report, even without my story (though it's documented in there), ignore one central investigative and post-Blagojevich trials fact: everyone who has made an allegation against me has been compromised by the criminal justice system. But the media often projects me, not them, as the least credible person. Yet when I was called as a witness for the defense, my testimony worked against Governor Blagojevich's defense.
Finally, in my defense, if the press had read and understood what was new and newsworthy in the 17-page report -- my story -- I would have thought the fact that my office communicated with the U.S. Attorney's office and shared with them misconduct by Governor Blagojevich would have been newsworthy. But, to the best of my knowledge, that fact was not reported anywhere. Is it believable then that, on the one hand, my office was communicating with the U.S. Attorney about what Governor Blagojevich was doing; and then, on the other hand, I was out trying to cut an illegal deal with Governor Blagojevich or his brother who I didn't know existed?
I have said from the beginning that I publicly and transparently sought to have the Governor of Illinois appoint me to fulfill the final two years of then-Senator Barack Obama's term in the U.S. Senate. I did nothing illegal, unethical or inappropriate in that pursuit and I believe that is what the House Ethics Committee will conclude at the end of this process. I did everything within my power to protect the integrity of my office and to represent, with dignity, the people in the 2nd Congressional District who elected me to serve them.
The press keeps reporting, "Junior's gone silent. We haven't heard much from him lately." It's not because I haven't been active, working and public. I've been working hard. For example, with the jobs crisis foremost on peoples' minds, I challenged President Obama and the Congress to do more and I laid out a detailed plan to put 15 million Americans back to work rather immediately before the federal judges and their staffs of the Northern District of Illinois. The press was there and didn't report a word I said about jobs. The only thing on their mind, and the only questions they asked, were about me and Blagojevich.
I've spoken at the RainbowPUSH Coalition forum several times recently, including a week ago, about how FDR put Americans back to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps. The press didn't even come. I spoke at the Kankakee County NAACP's Freedom Dinner (and made a similar speech on the House floor) updating them about the largest jobs plan in Illinois - building the Abraham Lincoln National Airport. Chicago cameras were in Kankakee, but the only thing they reported was that I said I would be "vindicated" once the legal process was completed. I've written several op-ed pieces that neither the Chicago Sun-Times nor the Chicago Tribune would agree to publish. I've issued numerous press releases and made several speeches on substantive issues on the House floor, but not a word was reported in the press in Chicago.
Why have I been mostly silent in the press about the Blagojevich case? As I have said repeatedly, out of respect for the criminal justice system and other investigative processes, I have allowed those matters to proceed, with my full cooperation, without seeking to influence the process through the media. Now the Blagojevich trials are over, the ethics process has finally resumed and I have been able to tell my story to the Ethics Committee. I intend to respect that process until it's completed.
More strongly than ever I believe in and am committed to the American ideal of "innocent until proven guilty." But that presumption of innocence has not been afforded me over the last four years. In fact, one local news reporter's interpretation and private response to my Press Secretary was, "clearly the investigators don't believe Jackson." That was her personal opinion and very subjective interpretation, not the objective, fair and impartial stance we should expect from an American reporter. What is "clear" is that the Ethics Committee didn't choose the third option; and what the Committee actually said in their news release is this: "The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."
I can only hope and pray that the public and the voters in the 2nd Congressional District will be fair and do a better job than this reporter of granting me the courtesy of seeing me as "innocent until proven guilty" -- interestingly enough, an idea that is usually reserved and only applied to someone who has actually been officially charged with a crime in an indictment. And I have not been charged with anything nor afforded the presumption of innocence!
The House Ethics Committee will continue their legal responsibility and I will continue to fully cooperate with them. And at the end of this process I still believe I will be vindicated.