In keeping with Illinois' long proud tradition of crooked governors, Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris, were arrested by agents of the FBI at their homes earlier today on corruption charges, including trying to "sell" the seat of departing senator Barack Obama, "like a sports agent", extorting campaign cash for political favors, like a "saleman trying to make his sales goal", and demanding that the Chicago Tribune fire editors who have been critical of Blagojevich in exchange for aid to the Tribune Company in their attempt to sell Wrigley Field.
Despite the threat of indictments and federal investigations swirling around him for years, Blago still continued business as usual.
In the face of new ethics guidelines which would preclude taking big cash from people doing business with the state, instead of the probes and indictments and prosecutions over the past year serving to slow down the corruption, it instead increased, in an attempt to rake in all the cash possible before the new ethics rules kicked in in January.
Federal prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald described Blago of engaging in a "crime spree" that would make "Lincoln roll over in his grave." Fitzgerald also used words such as "appalling", "staggering", "astounding", and "amazing".
Fitzgerald's assistant just revealed during the press conference that they called Blago at 6:00 a.m. this morning, waking him and informing him that there were FBI agents outside his home to take him into custody. Blago initially thought it was a joke, but they convinced him finally that it wasn't. They informed him they had a warrent for his arrest and took him into custody at his home without incident. He said that the children were just starting to stir as they hauled Blago out of his home.
The entire Federal criminal complaint against Blago and Harris can be read here.
The Sun-Times reveals that Blago was wire-tapped and caught speculating about what he might get in exchange for an appointment to Obama's senate seat, including...
• A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.
• Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.
• Promises of campaign funds — including cash up front.
• A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Wiretaps revealed Blagojevich speculating about Obama's senate seat.
From the Sun-Times:
Regarding the Senate seat, the charges allege that Blagojevich, Harris and others have engaged and are engaging in efforts to obtain personal gain, including financial gain, to benefit Blagojevich and his family through corruptly using Blagojevich’s sole authority to appoint a successor to the unexpired term of the President-elect’s former Senate seat, which he resigned effective Nov. 16. The affidavit details numerous conversations about the Senate seat between Nov. 3 and Dec. 5. In these conversations, Blagojevich allegedly discussed the attributes of potential candidates, including their abilities to benefit the people of Illinois, and the financial and political benefits he and his wife could receive if he appointed various of the possible candidates.
Throughout the intercepted conversations, Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being “stuck” as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife’s employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.
In the earliest intercepted conversation about the Senate seat described in the affidavit, Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A on Nov. 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he will take it for himself: “If . . . they’re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it.”
Later that day, speaking to Advisor A, Blagojevich allegedly said: “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” He added later that the seat “is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”
News conference set to start momentarily.
While all this will no doubt sound horribly corrupt to the country, one wonders what the big deal is in Illinois.
I'm sure that many Illinois pols are a bit nervous, seeing as they probably have converstions like this on a near daily basis. If you wire-tapped enough of them, you could probably indict the entire state legislature.
Imagine, trying to bully, threaten, try to buy off or intimidate someone who writes critically about you or your administration!! Hell, that's happened here on a nearly daily basis for years.
More Sun-Times coverage shows Blago's neighbors not surprised.
Details on the charge of selling Obama's seat here.
Details of attempt to get Chicago Tribune editorialists fired here.
This should get Sen. Jacobs excited, since he has visions of being governor dancing in his head.
Another equally pathetic result will inevitably be right wingers trying to insist that this means that Barack Obama is somehow corrupt despite absolutely zero evidence of any involvement on his part whatsoever. Blago is caught on a wiretap complaining that the Obama people weren't team players, that all he got from them was "appreciation", so "F*** 'em!".
But a huge impact of all of this is.... just who is going to select Obama's replacement in the senate??
Sen. Dick Durbin called a press conference earlier today where he called for a special election to choose Obama's replacement in the Senate. It's assumed that this is Obama's preference as well.
Is this the best way to go about it?
Blago was shown yesterday standing with the workers at Republican Window and Door being asked about this. By that time a story had emerged in the Trib that revealed that the Feds were using wire-taps and bugs. Blago said he wasn't concerned and derided them for engaging in spying and comparing it to Watergate.
I assume that there's good in depth coverage and even more, reaction from state insiders over at Capitol Fax as well.
During the press conference, Fitzgerald urged anyone that has been shook down by Blago or other politicians to contact them.
More as details emerge.