Moving to pre-empt a tabloid newspaper report, the Rev. Jesse Jackson this morning released a statement admitting he had an extramarital affair that resulted in a daughter who is now 20 months old.
"This is no time for evasions, denials or alibis," said the Baptist minister and former aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I fully accept responsibility and I am truly sorry for my actions."
Had Affair as He Counseled Clinton
The age of the daughter indicates Jackson, 59, was likely having the affair with Karin Stanford, a 39-year-old worker at his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition office in Washington, even as he counseled President Clinton after public revelations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern at the White House.
"He was really one of President Clinton's closest spiritual advisers and really friends through this whole ordeal," says ABCNEWS political analyst George Stephanopoulos. "He went to the White House and prayed with President Clinton. They got down on their knees, we heard, in the residence. He counseled Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton — really became a close friend to the family and they really bonded through this whole ordeal."
Jackson is president and founder of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a prominent civil rights organization. He has twice run for president, and has been active in political causes including the current "week of moral outrage" to protest the alleged disenfranchisement of blacks in Florida's presidential vote.
Jackson had planned to speak at a rally in Tallahassee scheduled to coincide with George W. Bush's presidential inauguration on Saturday. His office has not confirmed whether he still plans to attend the event.
Before joining Rainbow/PUSH, Stanford was a college professor who had written on Jackson.
‘Extremely Painful’ for Family
Since the birth of the illegitimate child, Jackson says, he has been providing the child "emotional and financial" support.
In his statement, Jackson adds that he has been trying to explain the development to his wife of 38 years and their five children.
"My wife, Jackie, and my children have been made aware of the child and it has been an extremely painful, trying and difficult time for them," Jackson said. "I have asked God and each one of them to forgive me and I thank each of them for their grace and understanding throughout this period of tribulation. We have prayed together and through God's grace we have been reconciling."
In 1984, Jackie Jackson told The Washington Post she was not jealous of the attention her husband received from women.
"My portion of Jesse Jackson is mine," she said, "and when I say that let me explain: I can't spend too much time worrying about other women if I am to develop myself; then I would be chasing all around this country. I'll tell you, that question bothers me. Don't ask me that ever again."
Attempt to Defuse Tabloid Report
Jackson's New York-based spokesman, John Scanlon, says Jackson issued the statement on his affair because he expected the tabloid, The National Enquirer, to reveal the secret.
Reports in both the New York Daily News and New York Post say Stanford claims in the Enquirer article that Jackson pays her $10,000 per month in child support, and at one point paid her $40,000 in moving expenses. Scanlon says those amounts are considerably inflated.
The papers also say official photos show Jackson brought Stanford to the White House to meet the president at a time when she was four months pregnant.
Hurts Jackson’s Credibility
Observers say even though Jackson came forward himself, the revelation may impair his effectiveness.
"It really damages the Rev. Jackson's credibility as a role model for young people, among other things," Clarence Page, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
"His biggest problem is with non-blacks, with mainstream America," Page said. "I think the black community can separate his personal from his public life, but his effectiveness as a mainstream spokesman has been more or less been neutralized."
Some of Jackson's public commitments are now in question. Scanlon says he will honor some obligations, but in his statement Jackson indicated he may withdraw from the limelight for a time.
"I will be taking some time off to revive my spirit and reconnect with my family before I return to my public ministry," he said.
Damage to Agenda?
ABCNEWS political director Mark Halperin says this personal episode will detract from Jackson's political agenda.
"That clearly will, in the short term, take him to some extent out of the very visible role as a public spokesman for causes in which he believes," Halperin says. "He's going to take time from that. Long term, we'll have to see if Rev. Jackson has the time and the credibility in some quarters to come back and talk about the full range of issues in which he's worked."
Jackson has been a very public voice in the battle to block the confirmation of John Ashcroft as President-elect Bush's attorney general.
He also was scheduled to speak at a protest march in Tallahassee on Saturday to correspond with Bush's inauguration. Jackson and many other blacks are angry about what they claim was the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida, where the alleged disenfranchisement may have cost Democrat Al Gore the election.
Last August, Clinton awarded Jackson the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. At that time, Jackson lavished praise on his wife and children for supporting him in his long civil rights career.
ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory in Washington, ABCNEWS' Kendra Gahagan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.