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What really happened with Jackson Jr., feds

Congressman talked with authorities about Blagojevich but never met them face-to-face

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December 22, 2008

There has been a lot reported about U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s cooperation with authorities since Jackson's name surfaced in the investigation of Gov. Blagojevich's alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

But some reports seem to have drawn too much from Jackson's initial statements that he'd been helping federal authorities look into possible wrongdoing by the governor.

Some news reports strayed so far that Jackson's spokesman, Kenneth Edmonds, felt the need to clarify that Jackson wasn't a regular "informant" in the case and that his cooperation "was completely unrelated to the current federal investigation regarding the U.S. Senate appointment."

So just what did Jackson know about Blagojevich, and when did he know it? And what did the feds know about Jackson?

Here's a timeline of those events, according to sources and court records:

Since Jackson has been a congressman: Jackson has worked with the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago providing information about possible criminal activity within his South Side and south suburban district. But Jackson did not talk to the feds about Blagojevich until this year.

June 2008: Newspapers first report that Jackson and convicted Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko had a meeting in 2006 about one of Jackson's pet issues: a longtime proposal to build a third airport in Peotone. Jackson alleges that Rezko wanted to turn a board overseeing the airport plan "into one of those state panels controlled by unaccountable pay-to-play ringleaders like Rezko."

Late summer 2008: Federal authorities and Jackson have their first telephone conversation about his 2006 meeting with Rezko, a source close to Jackson said last week. During that conversation, Jackson volunteers that his wife, Sandi -- who became a Chicago alderman in 2007 -- was being considered for a job as Illinois Lottery director in 2002 after Blagojevich had won his first term as governor.

Rep. Jackson also tells the feds that Blagojevich later indicated to him that Sandi Jackson did not get the job because Rep. Jackson did not contribute $25,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

"During this conversation, the U.S. attorney said, 'Yes, we would like to sit down with you ... about these two things: the Sandi incident and about the meeting with Rezko,'" the Jackson source said.

"And the congressman said 'Fine, we'll get together with you guys, no problem.' However, at the time -- this was late summer or so -- there was already those thinking that Barack was going to be elected president and that the governor was going to appoint the next U.S. senator." Jackson then told the feds he was interested in the Senate seat.

"The U.S. attorney said, 'Fine, what we'll do is we'll put it on hold right now. We will get back with you after the presidential election."

At some point thereafter, Jackson got a call about scheduling that meeting, but it was agreed that it was too early to set a date.

Oct. 31: Authorities who are secretly recording Blagojevich hear the governor talking about Jackson, who is identified as "Senate Candidate 5" in court documents. Blagojevich says that an unidentified person tied to Jackson approaches him about horse trading for the Senate seat. "We were approached 'pay to play,'" the governor says, "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."

Nov. 4: Obama wins the presidency.

Nov. 5 or shortly thereafter: Jackson talks again to the feds by phone.

"We did have another conversation the day or so after the presidential election," the Jackson source said. "The U.S. attorney said we still want to talk to you about these things, but we understand now there's an open seat, so let's postpone our meeting again.

"We want to talk to you after the appointment and before the inauguration. We'll meet anywhere you want to go."

Dec. 8: Jackson meets with Blagojevich for 90 minutes about the Senate seat at Blagojevich's Thompson Center office. Sources close to both say the two did not talk about fund-raising.

Night of Dec. 8: Feds try to call Jackson on his home phone and cell phone to tell him about Blagojevich's arrest and that his name might surface in the case. They cannot reach him.

Dec. 9: Blagojevich is arrested.

Dec. 9: The feds reach Jackson at his Washington, D.C., office. They tell him "he is not a target and he is not suspected of doing anything wrong," according to the Jackson source.

Chris Fusco and Tim Novak