Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Chief of Staff John Harris Arrested by FBI on Federal Corruption Charges

“I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.”...[A Senate seat] “is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”--Illinios Governor Rod Blagojevich

CBS2 (12-9-08) in Chicago reports:

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff, John Harris, were arrested today by [Chicago] FBI agents on federal corruption charges alleging that they and others are engaging in ongoing criminal activity: conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits for Blagojevich by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States Senator; threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect January 1, 2009. [See full article and links.]

Here is a press release (12-9-08) from the U. S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and the criminal complaint.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has press releases and legal documents at The United States Department of Justice United States Attorney's Office Northern District of Illinois [See also Mr. Fitzgerald's official biography.]

The press release notes that Governor Blagojevich was trying to purge editorial writers:

Blagojevich and aide allegedly conspired to sell U.S. Senate appointment, engaged in “pay-to-play” schemes and threatened to withhold state assistance to Tribune Company for Wrigley Field to induce purge of newspaper editorial writers...

Intercepted calls allegedly show that Blagojevich directed Harris to inform Tribune Owner and an associate, identified as Tribune Financial Advisor, that state financial assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board were fired, primarily because Blagojevich viewed them as driving discussion of his possible impeachment. In a November 4 phone call, Blagojevich allegedly told Harris that he should say to Tribune Financial Advisor, Cubs Chairman and Tribune Owner, “our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ‘em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support.”

... In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, “as somebody who was the most biased and unfair.” After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field. [Full text]

The Wall Street Journal (12-10-08) points out that Governor Blagojevich was making incriminating statements on the phone even after it was reported in the Chicago Tribune that his lines had been tapped:

The arrests came five years after federal authorities began investigating Mr. Blagojevich's alleged fund-raising and influence-peddling schemes. For the past two months, investigators have been listening on wiretaps to profanity-laced conversations about the governor's alleged plans to profit from his authority. "I want to make money," he said in one conversation, according to a 76-page federal affidavit.

The allegations suggest a breathtaking degree of brazenness on the part of the Illinois governor, who first won office in 2002 as a reformer and, according to the government affidavit, appeared to have continued to talk of his schemes by telephone after the Chicago Tribune reported Friday the phone lines had been tapped. On Monday, Mr. Blagojevich told reporters, "If anyone wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead."

...The government alleged Mr. Blagojevich was considering appointing himself to the Senate to avoid impeachment, resuscitate his career and make corporate contacts that would pay off after leaving public office. He also believed, the government claimed, that he would have greater leverage to rehabilitate his reputation and consolidate his power base for a possible run at the presidency in 2016 [Full text].

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