Lottery Post Journal

SHOCK: Illinois Governor arrested trying to sell vacant Obama Senate seat

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.

A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

Otherwise, Blagojevich considered appointing himself. The affidavit said that as late as Nov. 3, he told his deputy governor that if "they're not going to offer me anything of value I might as well take it."

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," Blagojevich allegedly said later that day, according to the affidavit, which also quoted him as saying in a remark punctuated by profanity that the seat was "a valuable thing - you just don't give it away for nothing."

The affidavit said Blagojevich also discussed getting a substantial salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.

It said Blagojevich also talked about getting his wife placed on corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's fees.

He also allegedly discussed getting campaign funds for himself or possibly a post in the president's cabinet or an ambassadorship once he left the governor's office. He noted becoming a U.S. senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016, according to the affidavit. And he allegedly said a Senate seat would also provide him with corporate contacts if he needed a job and present an opportunity for his wife to work as a lobbyist.

"I want to make money," the affidavit quotes him as saying in one conversation.

The affidavit said Blagojevich expressed frustration at being "stuck" as governor and that he would have access to greater resources if he were indicted while in the U.S. Senate than while sitting as governor.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a statement that "the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering."

"They allege that Blagojevich put a for sale sign on the naming of a United States senator," Fitzgerald said."

Messages left for Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero and at the governor's press office were not immediately returned Tuesday morning.

Among those being considered for the Senate post include U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson Jr.

The affidavit outlined a Nov. 10 call between Blagojevich, his wife, his chief of staff - John Harris, who also was arrested Tuesday - and a group of advisers in which Harris allegedly suggested working out an agreement with the Service Employees International Union.

Under the plan, Blagojevich would appoint a new senator who would be helpful to the president-elect and in turn get a job as head of Change to Win, a group formed by the union. The union would get an unspecified favor from Obama later.

Nothing in the court papers suggested Obama had any part in the discussion. In fact, Blagojevich allegedly said in the same conversation that Obama most likely would not appoint him as secretary of health and human services or to an ambassadorship because of the negative publicity that has surrounded the governor for three years.

One day later, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich allegedly told an associate he knew Obama wanted a specific Senate candidate but "they're not going to give me anything except appreciation." He finished the remark with an expletive.

Blagojevich also was charged with using his authority as governor in an attempt to squeeze out campaign contributions.

Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal investigation involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also investigating "serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under Blagojevich, who has a $177,412 salary, though it's unclear whether he accepts the total.

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges. Blagojevich's chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, is due to stand trial early next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.

According to Tuesday's complaint, Blagojevich schemed with Rezko, millionaire-fundraiser turned federal witness Stuart Levine and others to get financial benefits for himself and his campaign committee.

Federal prosecutors said Blagojevich and the chairman of his campaign committee have been speeding up corrupt fundraising activities in the last month to get as much money as possible before the end of the year when a new law would curtail his ability to raise contributions from companies with state contracts worth more than $50,000.

According to the affidavit, agents learned Blagojevich was seeking $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, with a large part allegedly to come from companies and individuals who have gotten state contracts or appointments.

The affidavit also outlines Blagojevich conversations related to Tribune Co., which has been hoping to sell Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs which the publishing giant also owns.

Blagojevich was quoted in court papers as telling Harris in a profanity laced Nov. 4 conversation that his recommendation to Tribune executives was to fire the editorial writers "and get us some editorial support."

Harris is quoted as telling the governor Nov. 11 that an unnamed Tribune Owner, presumably CEO Sam Zell, "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue."

The affidavit said Harris quoted a Tribune financial adviser as saying cuts were coming at the newspaper and "reading between the lines he's going after that section," apparently meaning editorial writers. Blagojevich is quoted as saying: "Oh, that's fantastic."

"Wow," Blagojevich allegedly replied. "Keep our fingers crossed. You're the man. Good job, John."

Harris allegedly told Blagojevich in his conversation with the financial adviser he had singled out deputy editorial page editor John McCormick as "somebody who was the most biased and unfair."

After hearing that, Blagojevich allegedly stressed to the head of a Chicago sports consulting firm that it was important to provide state aid for a Wrigley Field sale.

Blagojevich took the chief executive's office in 2003 as a reformer promising to clean up former Gov. George Ryan's mess.

Ryan, a Republican, is serving a 6-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. A decade-long investigation began with the sale of driver's licenses for bribes and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and governor.

FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said federal agents arrested the governor and Harris simultaneously at their homes at 6:15 a.m. and took them to the Chicago FBI headquarters.

He did not have any details about Blagojevich's arrest, only that he was cooperative with federal agents.

"It was a very calm setting," he said.

The governor was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan to answer the charges. The time was not immediately set.


  • Blago earning the 2008 Spoke-too-soon Award

    By time*treat, at 1:28 PM

  • Disgusting.

    By emilyg, at 1:31 PM

  • I'm afraid this is just the typical mindset of typical elected officials. I've said it many times before; our government has become the fast track to wealth in America. If you can get youself elected to public office, your successful financial future is assured. Our last governor managed to buy himself a $9M share in a semi-pro baseball team within days of leaving office. When I questioned where the money came from, and how this average Joe had managed to make millions while serving just two terms as our governor, I was verbally attacked and ridiculed by the reporters I contacted; they didn't WANT to know the source of his ill-gotten fortune.

         We''ll either see more stories like this one, or fewer, if they can manage to institute more effective methods of covering their tracks. It wouldn't surprise me if they drafted a bill that actually SANCTIONS their corrupt practices.


    By jim695, at 3:01 PM

  • HA! Blago screwed up big time. We've been expecting a corruption charge(s) but this one takes the cake! The sad thing is it doesn't surprise anyone in IL...seems to go with the job.

    By Rick G, at 3:22 PM

  • His hair was perfect...............

    Anybody familiar with the French Revolution?

    I think it is going to be sooner than later that the people that are paying attention wake up and say enough is enough. I had a hard time finding this jack ass's party affiliation this morning in the reports. If the media doesn't stop covering the truth for these crooks they all will be out of business soon. Just wait.............a ceratin players pre-elect title was referenced close to 80 times in some of the transcripts. as well as his advisors. There is no doubt Illinois political corruption runs long and deep.

    By jarasan, at 3:31 PM

  • The "Chicago Way" many articles alluded to awhile back.

    By konane, at 6:31 PM

  • Thanks to Todd & everyone for keeping this neutral and on topic. But this is in response to Jarasan. Are you saying that one party is more corrupt than another? Puhleeze! I didn't see you making this comment when Sen Stevens was convicted on 7 counts of receiving gifts. I guess we should shrug off all those Watergate indictments too. Regarding that "certain player," the tapes do just the opposite and refer to the President-Elect with profanity and resentment.

    Wall Street Journal / "There’s no indication that President-elect Barack Obama was involved in the Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal, as U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald clearly stated..."

    ABC / "There are no allegations that President-elect Obama or anyone close to him had anything to do with any of the crimes Gov. Blagojevich is accused of having committed."

    San Diego Union-Tribune / "Governor's troubles are not Obama's."

    Fox News Chicago/ "Nothing in the court papers suggested Obama had any part in the discussions about selling the Senate seat or knew of them. In fact, Blagojevich was overheard complaining at one point that Obama's people are "not going to give me anything except appreciation."

    Your comment is another "guilty by association" accusation.

    I've been honoring the no political blogs rule. However, how else can anyone respond to political comments by another member if not politically?

    By justxploring, at 5:19 PM

  • @JE: I took out the cursing from your post, please don't post that in my blog. Putting little asterisks in there doesn't really do it for me.

    I think what Jarasan was referring to was the media bias. I see nothing in his post that indicates that Democrats are corrupt and Republicans are not. You are creating that thought, not him.

    Jarasan was making a good point, and it is spot-on. The media under-reports Democrat party affiliations when there is corruption, and over-reports the same thing on the Republican side.   If you want to argue about the bias in the mainstream media, that's fine, but I don't think it's fair to assign statements to Jarasan that he did not make.

    Also, it is well-known that Chicago has a very corrupt political system, and most of the people who have done well there have participated to some degree in its corruption. That is not a partisan statement; it is the truth of the situation.

    However, if you'd like to argue that Chicago does not have corrupt politics, that's fine. I'm just not sure how you could prove that, with its long, shady history.

    Coming from New Jersey, I am very good at identifying a corrupt political system. ;-)

    By Todd, at 7:47 PM

  • Oh, I forgot to mention: It's too early to judge what, if any, role Obama will play in all of this. Don't take the prosecutor's statement and make it into something it's not.

    A prosecutor often holds back everything they don't HAVE to release at the beginning.

    The prosecutor's statement said that there is nothing about Obama in the current complaint against Blagojevich. It did not say that they are not investigating his role.

    I don't take a stand on Obama's role (if there is one) either way, because the list of facts are very thin. So any definite statements either way -- saying his is "totally involved/guilty" or "completely innocent" -- tell more about your own political leanings than anything.

    There is no way any American (except the prosecutor's office and the FBI) could know how deep Obama is involved at this point.

    By Todd, at 7:53 PM

  • Todd, just want to let you know I didn't curse. You've never seen be do that using the "F" word.   I wanted to copy & paste directly from the source.   That's exactly how it was written in the news sources I quoted.

    I never said Illinois politicians aren't corrupt. I am also sure Obama is no saint. I just said he hasn't been implicated.

    By justxploring, at 7:58 PM

  • Typo - meant to write "You've never seen me do that.."
    Okay, that's it.

    By justxploring, at 8:02 PM

  • I did not accuse you of saying you didn't think Illinois politicians are corrupt.

    Again, for whatever reason, you are reading something into what someone says that just isn't there.

    Are you taking the time to read carefully what the person is saying, or just skimming through it?

    My entire point was that you criticized Jarasan unfairly, and missed what he really said. Instead of answering that point, you did the same thing to me!

    By Todd, at 8:59 PM

  • Where's 300 Patrick Fitzgeralds when ya need them?

    By TigerAngel, at 1:26 AM

  • you dont want me posting a comment about this situation or even me i have yet failed to really find an honest politican....i think the majority are on the take. And that is a big shame.

    By atoz, at 10:26 PM

  • @atoz: I completely agree. Anyone who says "their side" is the honest side is lying to themselves. Some have better intentions than others, but they all lie and they all learn to love the power of office. I personally don't understand why this country showers politicians with wealth and perks. Most of them don't come close to earning it.

    The most upsetting thing is that the media no longer functions as it should -- as a watchdog for all sides. The politicians haven't changed, the media has.

    By Todd, at 9:43 AM

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