WASHINGTON, DC – The snowballing troubles of Jesse Jackson Jr. took a new turn Friday with the revelation that federal investigators have launched a probe into “suspicious activity” in the South Shore congessman’s finances.
Focusing on a completely new area of scrutiny for the son of the famed civil rights leader, the investigation is not related to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat, a scandal that has ensnared Jackson in the past, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rather, the probe — based in the Washington, D.C., FBI field office —is focusing on “suspicious activity” involving the congressman’s finances related to his House seat and the possibility of inappropriate expenditures, the sources said.
The probe was active in the weeks prior to Jackson taking a leave from his U.S. House seat on June 10, a leave his office ultimately attributed to his need for treatment for bipolar disorder, the sources said.
It was unclear whether the investigation involved the congressman’s official House spending account or his campaign finance account. But one source said it was an account monitored by Congress.
All members of the U.S. House receive an allowance to operate offices in Washington and in their districts. The allowances for rank-and-file members ranged from $1.4 million to $2 million in 2010, according to the House website.
Jackson’s congressional spokesman Frank Watkins said he was unaware of any investigation, had no comment and had no immediate way to get a hold of the congressman.
One of Jackson’s attorney’s, Paul Langer, repeatedly said “no comment,” when asked whether Jackson was under investigation related to his finances.
When asked if he was still representing Jackson or if the congressman had retained another attorney, Langer said:
“I can’t even comment on that.”
News of the probe — first disclosed by the Sun-Times — comes as questions increasingly swirl around Jackson’s absence from not only his official duties in Washington, but the campaign trail as the Nov. 6 election nears.
Citing exhaustion, Jackson, 47, stopped working, according to his staff, on June 10. His staff did not make that known until two weeks later.
He went to a clinic in Arizona then to the Mayo Clinic, which released a statement saying he was being treated for a bipolar disorder. Jackson is up for re-election Nov. 6 but has not campaigned since he won the Democratic primary in March.
The Jacksons put their Washington, D.C., home on the market last month at a price of $2.5 million. A campaign spokesman said at the time that the home was put on the market to pay for mounting medical bills. They subsequently took it off the market, saying it was a security issue.
Jackson came under scrutiny after one of his campaign donors approached Blagojevich with a pay-to-play offer regarding the appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Jackson has denied any wrongdoing, but that revelation sparked an investigation by a House ethics committee.
Jackson was first elected to Congress in 1995 and boasted of almost never missing a vote until he vanished from public view in June.
That’s when his office announced that he was taking off work to undergo medical treatment for “exhaustion.” Under pressure to reveal more details of his condition from even fellow politicians, Jackson’s office gradually dribbled out more extensive explanations over the course of the summer.
He finally surfaced nearly a month later when Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported he was being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The clinic revealed Jackson was being treated for Bipolar II depression, “a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is most likely caused by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors.”
Jackson returned to his home in Washington, D.C., early last month, but he still has not returned to work. His wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), recently said he may not return until after the November election, when he is up for another two-year term in the U.S. House.
“I can’t speak to when that’s going to happen or how that’s going to happen,” she said. “I can only say that I will continue to rely on [doctors’] expertise. I would only ask for patience.”
The couple has been loathe to speak to the media.
During a fund-raising event last month, Sandi Jackson called reporters waiting to speak to her outside “jackals.” She went to great lengths to avoid the media that night, waiting inside the darkened, otherwise empty restaurant until the last camera departed before she would exit.
The congressman once was among the more extroverted Chicago politicians, but he has been far more reclusive since his name was first linked to the scandal surrounding Blagojevich almost four years ago.
Jackson friend and campaign contributor Raghuveer Nayak told authorities he approached the then-governor with a lucrative fund-raising offer that could have led to Blagojevich’s appointment of Jackson to Obama’s old Senate seat.
Jackson has denied that version of events, and he was never charged with wrongdoing.