U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was aware that one of his top fundraisers had considered raising more than $1 million for then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for appointing the congressman to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat, according to court testimony given Wednesday.
Rejinder Bedi, a fundraiser for Jackson Jr., on Wednesday testified during Blagojevich's corruption trial that he was with the congressman and another major political player, Raghuveer Nayak, at a gathering in a Chicago restaurant in late October 2008 when the Senate seat came up. Prosecutor Christopher Niewoehner said Bedi allegedly witnessed Nayak tell Jackson he would raise the seven-figure sum if Jackson got the appointment.
But Bedi was not allowed to tell the story in open court. Federal Judge James Zagel classified the details of the meal-time money-scheme as hearsay.
But the message certainly made it back to Blagojevich, who made mention of the offer in a phone call with Bob Greenlee, an advisor, on Oct. 31.
"(Nayak) offered $500,000 and he said another man would raise $1 million," Blagojevich said.
"You know I'm not surprised," Greenlee said. "That man is shameless."
Bedi said he discussed the possibility of the appointment with Rod's brother Robert Blagojevich, who has been absent from almost all of the testimony thus far. The elder brother, who served as the governor's fund-raising chair in late 2008, talked about growing pressure from the Indian community in a call taped on Nov. 14.
"We are getting faxes from various Indian organizations that are advocating that you choose Jesse Jr. for the next Senate," he said. "I'm just passing it on for you."
"No, don't pass it on," Gov. Blagojevich snapped back.
The defense said in its opening statement that Nayak offered the governor $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for a Jackson appointment. But this is the first time Jackson Jr., the son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, has been drawn directly into the trial independently.
A call to Jackson Jr.'s office for comment was placed late Wedneday afternoon but had not been returned by presstime.
Bedi said both politicians crossed paths at fund-raisers with the Indian community, although there was minimal interaction. Nayak, Bedi and Blagojevich had been in talks of a Dec. 6 fund-raiser, but a Dec. 5 Chicago Tribune story about the FBI wiretaps that are now at the center of the trial ended those plans.
Blagojevich's attorneys are arguing that the governor never considered Jackson anything but a political ploy for negotiating with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. He has said in past tapes that an appointment of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan could help push his legislative agenda, which Speaker Madigan — Lisa's fahter — had been blocking.
Bedi is testifying under protection of immunity. He admitted that he helped Nayak launder money and failed to report his extra income on his taxes on the stand.
Blagojevich faces more than 400 years in prison if convicted of a bevy of corruption charges, including the alleged attempt to sell the Senate seat.