U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Resigns Under A Cloud

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned his seat in Illinois' 2nd District on Wednesday. He resigned in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. Jackson had been on medical leave since June, being treated for bipolar disorder. David Schaper talks to Audie Cornish.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Embattled Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. is no longer a congressman. In a two-page letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Jackson resigned his seat today. He's been on leave for the last six months and under the - and under a cloud of federal investigation.

Joining us now from Chicago is NPR's David Schaper. And, David, Jackson was just re-elected to a ninth full term in Congress just two weeks ago. So why is he stepping down now?

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, actually, Audie, this resignation is not entirely unexpected. There's been talk about Jackson resigning ever since - since even before the election earlier this month because Jackson has been on a medical leave of absence since June. He's being treated for bipolar disorder and depression. And in his resignation letter, Jackson said that as his health has deteriorated, his ability to serve his constituents has diminished. So essentially, he just feels he can no longer do his job.

CORNISH: Now, Jackson also acknowledges in that resignation letter that he is under federal investigation. Remind us the details of that particular case.

SCHAPER: Sure. Sources tell NPR that the investigation centers on the possible misuse of campaign funds, that he actually may have used campaign money on renovations to his Washington, D.C., house. Jackson says in that resignation letter that he's doing his best to cooperate with these investigators, and he accepts responsibility for his mistakes, mistakes that he says are his alone. There have been reports that his attorneys are trying to negotiate a plea agreement even before he's officially charged.

Jackson's attorneys put out a statement late today that confirms this, saying quote, "We hope to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter, but the process could take several months."

CORNISH: David, there was a time when Congressman Jackson was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.

SCHAPER: Right. Yeah. You know, this is quite a fall from grace for him. Forty-seven year old Jackson almost really became as famous as his famous father, the civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson. There had been high expectations for Jackson right from the get-go, but these are expectations that for a long time he appeared to meeting. He was in high demand to raise money for House members and other candidates.

In a lot of ways, he was - in Chicago, anyway - the Barack Obama of Chicago politics before Obama came along, even flirting with runs for Senate and for mayor. But now, it appears this once bright political career is over.

CORNISH: So, David, help us understand what's next. What's going to happen to Jackson's seat?

SCHAPER: Well, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn will have to call a special election to fill the seat. That special election date will be set within five days of him getting the official notice of the resignation. Illinois law then states that the special election must be held within 115 days. So less than three months from now, we'll be having the special election to fill the congressional seat. And there are already all kinds of candidates eyeing the race, from city alderman, to county and state representatives, even possibly other members of the Jackson family.

CORNISH: NPR's David Schaper in Chicago. Thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Audie.

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