After the government dismissed charges against Robert “Rob” Blagojevich, the brother of former Governor Rod Blagojevich returned to Nashville with his wife to try to rebuild his business and his life. Charges against him were dismissed “without prejudice,” a bit of legalese that means that the government could reinstate charges any time it wished.
So why is the older, more serious Blago sibling putting himself back in the spotlight? Why is Rob offering to travel to Washington to appear before members of the House Ethics Committee, which has resumed an investigation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., to tell them what he knows about an alleged scheme to trade campaign cash for a Senate seat?
Because, Rob told me Sunday afternoon from Nashville, where I reached him by telephone, he’s an upstanding American citizen who feels it’s his responsibility to tell the ten members of the Committee what he knows. He repeated for me on Sunday a scenario he has described previously, in part under oath during his trial, of two businesmen, Rajinder Bedi and Raghuveer Nayak, allegedly acting on Jackson’s behalf and making six-figure offers of campaign cash to Rod in exchange for a Senate appointment for a seat made vacant by Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. (Jackson has denied all charges and has not been charged.)
Here, in this edited transcript, is what Robert had to say on that and more, including the news that he has not spoken to his brother since last July.
CF: Have you received an answer from the members of the Ethics Committee?
RB: No, not from the members; the [Ethics Committee] chief of staff called me to acknowledge that he had received an email that I had copied him on to let him know that I had sent letters to all the members. He said we’ll take your request under advisement. At this stage, [he said], it’s too early to know what next steps are and if it’s appropriate we’ll contact you some time in the future.
CF: The Sun-Times broke this story and you told reporter Natasha Korecki, “Based on what I know, I believe Jesse Jackson Jr. has a lot of unanswered questions that he needs to answer.” Can you tell me what those questions are? You also said you had “details” to offer. Can you tell me what those are?
RB: No, I’m not going to offer anything along those lines. I think it would be very inappropriate. As I’ve said already, I testified under oath during my trial but what seems to have happened is it’s just been overlooked. [I said] that I had been approached by two emissaries that I believed to be representing Jesse Jackson Jr. for two different amounts of campaign funds, in exchange for him getting the senate seat. I testified to that under oath, and that is what I’m prepared to speak to if the [Ethics] Committee calls me, because it seems to have been just overloooked by the Chicago press and by national press, and it’s not like I’ve been waiting for the Ethics Committee to convene so I could come talk to them. When I saw that [they had resumed the investigation] I thought I could help them with what I’ve testified to already because certainly they don’t know it. Very few people know it other than those that are inner circle during the trial and, of course, the jurors. I offered to personally come testify. If that wasn’t something they’d be interested in, I told them I’d be happy to be interviewed and, at a minimum, they should check my sworn testimony during the summer trial in 2010. What I testified to was the truth as I understood it, and it was under oath. I withstood cross-examination, and the government dropped their charges. Also if you’ll remember during the trial, the government brought a witness, Rajinder Bedi, against me, under cross-examination by my attorney, Michael Ettinger, who, not once, but twice, said, “Did Robert kill the deal?” And the answer was “Yes.” I was approached and I killed [the deal]. I was the guy who got indicted and I had to face the government and defend myself with every energy I had. It was no fun.
CF: In a speech on Saturday to the Kankakee County NAACP dinner, Congressman Jackson said that he doesn’t know you, has never met you, and, Jackson told the Tribune’s Rick Pearson, “by definition, I never asked anybody to talk to him.” True?
RB: Yes, that’s correct [that we don’t know each other]. I’ve even said publicly that I’ve never met him and I have nothing against the congressman personally, but I know what happened to me, and I think that information would be useful to the House Ethics Committee if they were in fact serious about finding out what happened.
CF: Jackson’s lawyer has attempted to link your offer to the Ethics Committee and Jackson’s father’s failure to write a letter to Judge James Zagel seeking leniency in sentencing. The lawyer seems to be suggesting that you were angry that Jackson Sr. didn't respond to the letter by one of your brother’s lawyers, Aaron Goldstein. He wrote to Jackson Sr. asking him to write to Judge Zagel about a humanitarian mission the Rev. Jackson and then-Congressman Blagojevich took in 1999 to Belgrade, where they successfully negotiated with Slobodan Milosevic for the release of three American POWs.
RB: I had no knowledge of [Goldstein’s] letter. It was a surprise to me. And the sad thing is I haven’t spoken to my brother since July, so there was no communication there. I think it’s a desperate stretch to discredit me.
CF: Are you estranged from your brother?
RB: That’s as far as I’m gonna comment on my relationship with Rod.
CF: Your bringing this up now takes a little bit of courage because the charges were dismissed, but without predjudice, which means you could be recharged. One would think you’d want to stay under the radar. Does this come into your head when you bring up stuff llike this?
RB: Of course it does. It does every day since the government dismissed charges without prejudice. It doesn’t leave me. But I’m also a free citizen to speak openly about what I knew, and if there’s risk in telling the truth, I guess I’m willing to take that risk in an open democracy.
CF: How are things back in Nashville with your family and your real estate business?
RB: I had a two-year gap really being absent from being totally focused on my business [as owner of multi-family apartment complexes], and had a substantial financial burden being brought on me from the trial that I’m trying to manage through. So we’re doing as best we can. We [his only child, a son, works in Chicago for a commerical real estate firm] all love each other, we’re all healthy, and we’re all supportive of each other. My wife has been exceptionally supportive of me and loving, and I couldn’t have gotten through this without her on so many levels. I’m a lucky man—very lucky that way. When you’re indicted, it’s a 24/7 consumption. It absorbs you because of the uncertainties, the fear of the unknown. Nothing takes more priority than that, so sadly my business has suffered and I’m trying to bring it back.