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Collateral damage in the Blago trial?


CHICAGO -- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) is under increasing pressure to explain the apparent discrepancy between his public statements about involvement in alleged schemes to trade campaign fundraising for President Obama's Senate seat, and a federal prosecutor's description of potential testimony in Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial.

After Jackson's name surfaced in connection with Blagojevich's Dec. 2008 arrest, the seven-term lawmaker said he was not "aware of anyone making an offer to the governor on my behalf" in exchange for a Senate appointment.

But with the jury out of the courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewhoehner told Judge James Zagel that Rajinder Bedi -- a big Illinois Democratic fundraiser -- was prepared to testify that he told Jackson in a direct, face-to-face meeting that he would raise $1 million for Blagojevich if the governor named Jackson to the Senate seat Obama was vacating to become president.

The judge wouldn't let the jury hear elements of that testimony, but on secret FBI wiretaps made in the days after the 2008 election, Blagojevich is heard discussing an offer of fundraising help from the Jackson camp.

In fact, that offer appeared to have shifted Blagojevich's thinking about a Jackson appointment. At first, he derided Jackson as an incompetent unworthy of Congress and said the idea of naming him to the Senate was "repugnant." Later, he warmed to the idea, saying Jackson was the only potential appointment for whom he could get something "tangible upfront."

After the courtroom disclosure -- the first that Jackson was aware of the efforts to get the Senate seat for him -- Jackson again denied being "part of any improper scheme with Blagojevich or anyone else related to securing" the Senate seat. He said it would be inappropriate "to clear up misstatements made by some" until after the trial.

Jackson has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But there has been a subtle, but intriguing, shift in his public statements. While he once said he had been told explicitly that he was "not a target of this investigation," he now says: "I have never been advised that I am a target of this investigation."