Jesse Jackson, Jr., Informant or Tattler?

Jesse Jackson, Jr. has been providing the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago with information about alleged bribes by Rod Blagojevich and details of meetings for months. Some call him an informant. Jackson rejects the label.

I would ask this: If Jackson, Jr. went to the feds to report what he perceived to be a personal bribe by Blagojevich -- a scheme in which Jackson believed himself to be a victim -- is that informing or reporting a crime?

Ratting and snitching are done for personal benefit -- either money or rewards of leniency for one's own misdeeds or for promises to lay off family members. Reporting a crime you witness, without needing, asking for or receiving any personal gain in exchange for the information doesn't seem to fit the label.

Snitching and ratting are bad. I don't think any site attacks the practice of Government purchased testimony from informants, snitches and rats more than TalkLeft. But... [More...]

If we reduce the word "informing" to a level where we discourage citizens from reporting a crime they observed, or a crime in which they were the victim, but not a perpetrator or coconspirator, the words will lose their meaning, and their power.

I'd rather see the words "snitch" and "rat" reserved for those with whom the Government makes deals, providing the rats with money or other inducements like sentence concessions or immunity from prosecution.

Snitch testimony is purchased testimony. It is bought with promises of leniency. Freedom is a far more precious commodity than money. The incentive to lie is enormous. Only by telling the Government's version of the truth does the snitch get his pay-off: immunity from prosecution or a lesser sentence for his own misdeeds.

The details aren't out yet on the extent of Jackson, Jr.'s involvement with the feds. We don't know his motive or whether his information was limited to events he witnessed. Did he go to the feds because he feared he had done something wrong or because he was offended the Governor would try and bribe him? Perhaps investigative reporters can dig and determine whether JJJ also feared he had personal liability and wanted the Government to give him a pass in exchange for his cooperation. If he had no liability of his own and he felt personally victimized by what he perceived to be a criminal attempt at extortion, I think he's a tattler, but not the classic informant or rat. If he was trying to protect himself from criminal charges, then the label may fit.

Right now I'd say Jackson is in the tattler category. If it turns out he wore a wire to help the feds catch Blago or someone else in not-yet committed crimes, I'd say he was an informant. If he was only interviewed about what Blago and others told him in the past which he perceived to be criminal attempts to bribe him, then I think the use of the word is overkill.

On a related note, since I'm glad to see the words "snitch" and "rat" have entered our national discourse with a negative connotation, I'm re-offering our line of anti-snitch products. They make great gifts.

The coffee mug may start a discussion, as might the teddy bear or the mouse pad. End result: Every person who asks you about it gets to hear from you just what the problem is. It's not saying citizens shouldn't report crimes or agree to provide information about crimes in which they were victimized. It's about selling your information for a personal benefit -- either money or leniency for your own or a family members' misdeeds.

They make great Xmas presents, as does our Fourth Amendment Subway Tote for those pesky bag checks you encounter at subways, buses, and trains. What better way to hand over your bag for a search than to present the searcher with the words of the Fourth Amendment?

TalkLeft message clothing is here and logo merchandise is here.

The TL Gear Shop is here.

[Note: Post tweaked for grammar and typos.)
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    I truly don't understand (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Steve M on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 10:34:04 AM EST
    The points about the unreliability of such testimony are all well-taken.  But assuming the person testifies truthfully, what exactly is morally condemnable about it?  Sure, it's not exactly laudable - he's only helping to convict other criminals in order to save his own bacon - but why should he be termed a "rat" by anyone but his angry former conspirators?

    We learn as very young children that it's bad to be a "tattletale," and it puzzles me how we seem to unthinkingly carry that attitude forward into later life.  Seems to me we're better off as a society if criminals betray each other at every opportunity.

    Better off? (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 10:51:53 AM EST
    Couldn't disagree more.

    A society where it is commonplace to inform on your friends and neighbors is no place I wanna live in.  If we were all in 100% agreement on the criminal code maybe I'd feel different. And maybe I've read too many dystopian novels...but I want no part of it.

    Informants and snitches sometimes use the law as a weapon to crush their criminal competition, or just to "get" people they don't like.  A guy I work with doesn't get along with his neighbor, she went and informed on him to the town about some two-bit code violation...specifically a shed he never got a permit too build.  Cost him a lot of time and money, and caused him a lot of grief.  That's your informant culture for ya.


    Hmm (none / 0) (#10)
    by Steve M on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:17:43 AM EST
    I don't think you read what I said, I think you wrote your own version of it.  I specifically referred to criminals betraying each other, not random people informing on their neighbors.

    Well... (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:52:08 AM EST
    I'm sure my co-worker's neighbor breaks the law, just like my co-worker.  Just like me and 99% of America.

    Technically, we are all criminals.


    Cmon (none / 0) (#17)
    by Steve M on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 12:28:47 PM EST
    I'm talking about people who are involved in a common criminal enterprise together, not neighbors who incidentally happen to speed on the highway or something.

    It all ties together Steve... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 12:49:51 PM EST
    snitching wouldn't have such a bad rap if the criminal code wasn't so bloated.

    If we got all the "crimes in name only" off the books, peoples opinions about snitches and snitching might change.  

    I hear what you're saying...murderers ratting out murderers is good. I'm not so sure...I tend to believe the worst criminal is the first to rat and get off, while the principled criminal with a code of honor suffers.


    Barbossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.

    Yeah.... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 02:07:00 PM EST
    that whole honor among thieves thing:)

    Like Omar said on "The Wire"...."A man needs a code."


    what is truth? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:46:46 AM EST
    Too often, when the snitch's testimony doesn't match the Government's version of the truth, it withholds the benefit. The Government, and only the Government, gets to decide whether the cooperator is telling the truth. Every cooperation plea agreement states something along the lines of:

    If the United States Attorney's Office determines, in its sole discretion, that the defendant has cooperated fully, provided substantial assistance to law enforcement authorities and otherwise complied with the
    terms of this agreement, the Government, at the time of sentencing, will file a motion with the
    sentencing Court pursuant to Section 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines, provided the Defendant continues to truthfully cooperate and does not retract or otherwise recant the information supplied.  (My emphasis)

    that gives the cooperator (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:48:14 AM EST
    an enormous incentive to tell the Government what it wants to hear and falsely implicate others.

    Clearly, in your scenario, (none / 0) (#16)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:58:54 AM EST
    it would not be the truth.

    But this is about a "snitch" truthfully implicating others.

    If the a "snitch" says "I saw that guy kill the deceased," and in fact he did see that guy kill the deceased, what's the problem?


    Unfortunately, the term "snitch" is now (5.00 / 4) (#7)
    by Anne on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 10:47:17 AM EST
    defined in popular culture as an ordinary citizen who wants to live in a safe neighborhood and who dares to report drug and other criminal activity to the police - and we have the "Stop Snitchin'" video to thank for that.  It was produced in 2004 by a Baltimore rapper and featured an appearance by Carmelo Anthony - who says he thought it was a joke and he was just havin' fun with some old friends from the `hood.  

    We in Baltimore still remember the Dawson family.  Angela Dawson was a mother of 5 who first tried to deal with the drug activity on the corner where her house was located, by talking to the drug dealers herself.  When that didn't work, she went to the police.  Her house was vandalized, and there was an attempted arson.  The second attempt succeeded - she, her husband and their 5 children were all killed - burned to death - a message to her and a message to anyone else who might think about snitching.  

    The police could not protect this family - another message that was undoubtedly noted by others who thought about coming forward - and the Dawson family refused to be relocated from their home.  Those were very dark days in Baltimore.

    My point is that thanks to the "Stop Snitchin" campaign, which also produced t-shirts and can be seen carved into Stop signs and spray-painted on buildings in some not-so-great parts of town, the term as currently used now prevails over the conventional jailhouse definition - which is why, when I saw the list of products offered for sale, my stomach turned a little.

    I know that's not where you're going with this, Jeralyn, but I fear you are fighting a losing battle to convince people that your definition of "snitch" is the one people will take from the items you have for sale.

    +1 (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by mattt on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:04:12 AM EST
    Where I live and work, "snitch" means anybody who gives information to the cops, regardless of motive or compensation.  Blanket condemnation of "snitches," given the current real-world definition, would seem to place the police and justice system at a moral level equal to criminal gangs.  I'm not a huge fan of law enforcement, but I'm not ready to go that far either.

    yep. a "snitch" in Pittsburgh is (none / 0) (#25)
    by kempis on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 04:21:40 PM EST
    a neighbor who cooperates with the police in an effort to solve a homicide.

    "Stop Snitchin'" here is an effort to intimidate good people to remain holed-up in their unsafe homes--silently.

    I don't much care for it.

    I understand that it means something else to defense attorneys. But y'all need to understand that it means other things, too.


    What about plea bargains? (4.00 / 1) (#1)
    by nyjets on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 07:23:55 AM EST
    Do you consider plea bargains the same as snitching?
    For example: Four people rob a store and kill the owner. One of the criminals is captured and makes a deal to get the other four criminals.
    If there is no plea bargain, the other three criminals go free.

    that's the worst kind of snitch (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 09:46:40 AM EST
    If you use a person in a sting operation (none / 0) (#2)
    by Saul on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 08:26:37 AM EST
    to provide you with information on a particular person of interest to the FBI or any police authority then you are an informant.  The word alone comes form the word information.  That is exactly what JJ Jr. did.  He provided information to authorities on what seems an agreed regular basis.   I disagree that the word informant should mostly be used with criminals who are looking for leniency.  

    I am not so sure if Blago in the true legal sense has acually committed a crime.  Why wasn't there a grand jury to indict him.  Is he going to trial if so when is the trial date?  I thought when you were arrested you had to be charged with a legal crime and a trial date had to be set.

    Either Blago's attorney feel strong that he has not committed a legal crime and will play this out or his attorney or attorneys  are idots.

    there are two ways to be charged (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 10:10:38 AM EST
    in federal court, by complaint and grand jury. If the prosecutor elects to go by complaint, he or she has 30 days to bring the matter before a grand jury and get an indictment. Grand juries don't sit 24/7. Sometimes, as appears to have happened here, events will occur during a long term investigation that will cause the prosecutor to make immediate arrests before bringing the case to a grand jury. Example: a wiretap gets exposed and those under investigation learn of it. The prosecutor may fear they will flee and decide to make immediate arrests. The charges would then be by complaint and the government has 30 days from their first appearance in court to go to the grand jury.

    In this case, Fitz said he unexpectedly heard about the alleged attempted sale of Obama's Senate seat and felt he had to act before Blago named a replacement.

    Pleas of not guilty don't occur until after the indictment. That's called the "arraignment" and is when speedy trial starts  running and dates for further proceedings are set.  In a complex wiretap case, it's not unusual for trial dates not to be set for many months or even more than a year.

    If Jesse Jackson wore a wire to help the feds catch Blago or someone else in not-yet committed  crimes, I'd say he was an informant. If he was only interviewed about what Blago and others told him in the past which he perceived to be criminal attempts to bribe him, then I think the use of the word is overkill.


    It takes two to tango for a quid quo pro to happen (none / 0) (#26)
    by Saul on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 08:40:57 PM EST
    and from what you said about Fitz:

    In this case, Fitz said he unexpectedly heard about the alleged attempted sale of Obama's Senate seat and felt he had to act before Blago named a replacement.

    Here is where I am puzzled.  Why would Fitz come out now about an allege quid quo pro when he could have gotten the actual act in progress. i.e. Fitz would have had the guy that gave Blago the money or the favor in exchange for the Senate seat as well as the recipient which is Blago.  Why did Fitz stop the actual crime to be committed by interrupting the money to be exchanged.   I find this to be a little to convenient for my blood.  Maybe JJ Jr or another Obama operative  was going to give Blago the money and he did not want JJ Jr or the Obama operative to go down also as he brought down Blago.   I tell you something smells here and I think Fitz is covering up for Obama's people. There more here than meets the eye IMO

    What say you?


    No evidence JJJr (none / 0) (#12)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:41:17 AM EST
    participated in any sting operation, if that's what you're suggesting.

    This is all still pretty muddy, but apparently Blago tried his extortion trick on him for something back in 2002 or 2003, and JJJr. refused to play but kept silent about it.

    He didn't come forward until he learned that Fitz was investigating Blago for similar stuff in 2006, at which point he reportedly went to him and told him about the 2002/3 incident.

    What's happened since then is unclear in the reporting I've seen.  It's said he communicated with Fitz's office "regularly," but no indication about what.  Since JJJr. is said to have kept a wide distance from Blago for years, what was he talking to Fitz about?

    And then why was he appealing to Blago for the Senate seat, knowing the guy was an extortionist and having established he wasn't going to play that game with him, and also surely at least suspecting Fitz was still investigating and possibly listening in on Blago's doings?  It's all very strange, and certainly JJJr. would have been in a very strange and uncomfortable position.

    And then there's JJJr's impassioned public statement of outraged innocence after the Blago indictment that he went to see him with full confidence that everything was aboveboard and on the up-and-up-- which simply isn't true, given his past experience with him, his conversations with Fitz's office, not to mention the fact that pretty much everybody in Illinois politics had known for years that Blago was operating this way.

    Given how much he wanted that Senate seat, JJJr has been in a terribly difficult position trying to thread his way through this mess.  But once again, we've got an ambitious politician giving out incomplete and strongly conflicting information that makes it hard for the public to figure out just what he was doing.

    As with Obama, it seems pretty clear JJJr. wasn't engaged in Blago's illegal bidding war, but it's also not clear what games they were playing or not playing with Fitz about what information they had about it.


    I think Fitz will not have a strong case (none / 0) (#23)
    by Saul on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 02:55:55 PM EST
    If Fitz wants to get a grand jury to indict ok but along with that indictment comes a lot of people that need to be called in as witness and many of those people will have information that is good for the case and also not good for the case.  That Obama is appalled that Blgo was doing such things is like Obama was living on Mars.  He is from Chicago he knows exactly who is crooked and who is not.  I still think there is more than meets the eye hear  but I feel Fitz wants to be nice to Obama since his job could be on the line during Obama's adminstration.  Any allegiance to Obama by Fitz could also be construed as a quid quo pro.

    I think I'll wait a bit (none / 0) (#24)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 03:52:35 PM EST
    before assuming Fitz is trying to curry favor with Obama in order to keep his job as US attorney or any other reason.

    Fitz has always given every appearance of reverence for the legitimate workings of government and genuine high dudgeon for those who violate it, whether that's Blago or Dick Cheney.

    I agree that the trial, if there is one, will drag a lot of very interesting and embarrassing witnesses out of the woodwork, one reason I suspect Blago isn't going to go for any plea deals that might be offered.


    at least... (none / 0) (#3)
    by laila on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 09:44:13 AM EST
    now he wont be maligned and lied on anymore.  the amount of accusations about this man were ridiculous.

    Just to clarify... (none / 0) (#11)
    by mattt on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 11:27:28 AM EST
    If some hypothetical investment banker came into knowledge (or even informed suspicion) that some underhanded dealing was responsible for Maddoff's unusually high and consistent investment returns....and he brought this information to the SEC or other authority [i]because he was a competitor of Maddoff[/i] and felt his own business was suffering due to competition with a fraudulent operation, and maybe he has a personal beef with the guy too....he'd be a "rat."  Right?

    What about a hypothetical pol who wants to be appointed to a vacant senate seat.  The governor solicits a bribe for the appointment...the pol fears for his reputation should his involvement in this scheme become known, and for this reason turns informant.  Or since he is motivated largely by self interest, is he a "snitch?"

    Or... (none / 0) (#20)
    by Fabian on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 01:39:28 PM EST
    If a certain pol was going to have to run in a Special Election and his previous involvement with an unsavory pol was going to seriously adversely affect his chances of raising the necessary funds and votes...

    Wouldn't he be acting in a manner clearly meant to benefit himself?  


    If Jesse Jackson Jr..... (none / 0) (#22)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 02:20:42 PM EST
    is an undercover secret informant working for the man...is there anybody who isn't?

    I wonder what JJ Sr. really thinks about it, considering how often he bumped heads with the man back in the day.  Or maybe he was undercover all that time spying on other civil rights leaders...who the hell knows?

    Man to man is so unjust, children:
    Ya dont know who to trust.
    Your worst enemy could be your best friend,
    And your best friend your worse enemy.

    Some will eat and drink with you,
    Then behind them su-su pon you.
    Only your friend know your secrets,
    So only he could reveal it.
    And who the cap fit, let them wear it!
    Who the cap fit, let them wear it!

    - The Wailers