This message from Jesse Jackson Jr.’s office landed in his supporters’ inboxes earlier this evening:

“As a responsible citizen and elected official, Congressman Jackson has in the past provided information to federal authorities regarding his personal knowledge of perceived corruption and governmental misconduct. This was completely unrelated to the current federal investigation regarding the U.S. Senate appointment. And it is absolutely inaccurate to describe the Congressman as an informant.”

Of course, that’s exactly how he’s been described in news stories across the country and beyond since Channel 7 reported last night that Jackson first spoke with the feds months ago about the wheeling and dealing of governor Rod Blagojevich.

For the umpteenth time in the last week, I’m left with the profound question: WTF? The statement from Jackson spokesman Ken Edmonds doesn’t clear a whole lot up; now we have a defensive clarification of a story that already sounded a lot like an attempt by Jackson’s camp to pull him out of the muck he’s been wading through since last week.

Maybe this was an instance where the cure was as bad as the ailment.

Jackson has said he’s not a target of a federal investigation and hasn’t been accused of misconduct. In fact, the criminal complaint [PDF] against Blago had two counts, neither of which involved the Senate seat. 

But politics is as much about perception–about the public’s confidence in someone–as it is about the law or government. As an elected official, you don’t really want to have to call a press conference to explain that, no, actually, you’re not being watched by the feds. And I don’t think it’s that much better to have to come back and dissect the meaning of “informant,” let alone your “personal knowledge of perceived corruption.” Fairly or not, lots of people will draw a conclusion from all of it: This guy’s up to his neck in something, and I don’t like how it smells.

Whether the Senate seat is filled by appointment or election, Jackson’s chances of getting it are shot. Instead, he’s going to need to take good care of his district over the next year; the kind of news he’s been in the middle of lately tends to generate primary challengers. But if he does have extra time and energy, maybe he’ll pay some attention again to City Hall–given the pace and scope of deals going down there recently, a little political grandstanding from someone who doesn’t report to the administration can’t hurt at all.

Then again, Jackson can take comfort in what happened to another City Hall pol questioned about his knowledge of corruption by the feds: he was re-elected with more than 70 percent of the vote.