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12/10/2008
BLAGOJEVICH: BEYOND ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ IN ILLINOIS

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Those of us who have followed Illinois politics for any length of time are tempted to give the Rod Blagojevich arrest and pending indictment a quick shrug, a knowing smile, and a cynical sigh of know-it-all arrogance. “We’ve seen this before in Illinois, nothing new here, just move along” is the condenscending response to questions from out of staters that usually suffice when some Illinois politico is caught with his fingers in the taxpayer’s cookie jar.

But the Blagojevich True Crime Drama is not criminality as usual in Illinois politics. The malfeasance of Governor Rod Blagojevich is so outrageous, so brazen, so breathtaking in its scope and character that even  jaded journalistic hacks whose beat has been the statehouse for years are shocked. In the long history of official Illinois corruption, the Blagojevich schemes to personally enrich himself, enrich his cronies, and use the power of his office to further his nefarious designs are unprecedented.

“I want to make money” the governor was heard admitting on tape. Evidently, the opportunities that presented themselves for Blagojevich to clean up were too tempting to pass up. Here’s a partial list of the charges via the Chicago Tribune:

Prosecutors alleged Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services, secretary of the Energy Department or gain an ambassadorship in the new Obama administration, or get a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate. An Obama spokesman had no immediate comment.

Blagojevich also was alleged to be using a favors list, made up largely of individuals and firms that have state contracts or received taxpayer benefits, from which to conduct a $2.5 million fundraising drive before year’s end when a new tougher law on campaign donations, prompted by the governor’s voracious fundraising, would take effect.

Even Blagojevich’s recently announced $1.8 billion plan for new interchanges and “green lanes” on the Illinois Tollway was subject to corruption, prosecutors alleged. The criminal complaint alleges Blagojevich expected an unnamed highway concrete contractor to raise a half-million dollars for his campaign fund in exchange for state money for the tollway project. “If they don’t perform, (expletive) ‘em,” Blagojevich said, according to the complaint.

Blagojevich and Harris also allegedly conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.

In addition, federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts.

The big news, of course, is the governor’s attempt to sell the senate seat of Barack Obama. Incredibly, it appears that he tried to get the best deal by shopping the seat to as many as 7 potential candidates - including, indirectly, Barack Obama.

Blogger Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire details the offer to an unamed high level Obama advisor (evidence suggests it is newly-designated chief of staff Rahm Emanuel). Blagojevich was pushing what Cannon calls “a wacky scheme” where the governor would take over control of a not for profit group - a 501(c)(4) - set up by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (who would act at the behest of Obama) in exchange for appointing Obama’s choice for the senate seat - his long time friend and advisor Valerie Jarrett.

This is directly from the criminal complaint: (PDF) that details several conversations caught on a federal wiretap:

The advisor asked ROD BLAGOJEVICH if the 501(c)(4) is a real effort or just a vehicle to help ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that it is a real effort but also a place for ROD BLAGOJEVICH to go when he is no longer Governor. The advisor said he likes the Change to Win idea better, and notes that it is more likely to happen because it is one step removed from the President-elect.

“Change to Win” is a labor NGO that the governor was interested in heading up. In order to get that job, Blagojevich had to approach the head of the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Andy Stern. The governor was willing to name a candidate who would be little more than a union toady in order to secure that position. And he was asking “Advisor B” (Emanuel) to make it happen.

according to Advisor B from the President-elect’s perspective, there would be fewer “fingerprints” on the President-elect’s involvement with Change to Win because Change to Win already has an existing stream of revenue and, therefore, “you won’t have stories in four years that they bought you off.”

Was Rahm Emanuel (read Cannon’s reasoning on why the evidence points to the chief of staff) making a counter offer to the governor’s bribe? It’s an interesting question and one that the press may wish to ask the new chief of staff.

In addition to the Obama team, Blagojevich was trying to sell the senate seat to as many as 6 different candidates. One candidate’s representative - “Candidate #5 in the complaint - allegedly offered Blagojevich a substantial bribe for the office. The governor liked that idea and told an aide that if Obama “didn’t give him anything” he would choose Candidate #5.

Who is “Candidate #5?” Speculation is zeroing in on Jesse Jackson, Jr. From the actual complaint via Marc Ambinder:

Blagojevich said that he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided
Blagojevich with something “tangible up front.” Noting that he was going to meet with Senate
Candidate 5 in the next few days, Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to reach out to an intermediary (Individual D), from whom Blagojevich is attempting to obtain campaign contributions and whi Blagojevich believes is close to Senate Candidate 5. Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to tell Individual D that Senate Candidate 5 was a very realistic candidate but Blagojevich was getting a lot of pressure not to appoint Senate Candidate 5, according to the affidavit.

The only candidate for the senate seat to meet with Obama in the time period mentioned was Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

It should be noted that there is absolutely no evidence that Jackson had any knowledge of these representations to Obama made on his behalf by a fundraiser nor is there any evidence that an “intermediary” informed him of the “negotiations.

If you read all 72 pages of the indictment, you just can’t help being struck by the money grubbing nature of the governor and his mania for money. He had schemes within schemes to extract cash from supporters, cronies, and companies who wished to do business with the state.

His “pay to play” program was particularly lucrative. This was a scheme where Blagojevich friend and campaign financier Antoin “Tony” Rezko pressured companies doing business with the state to contribute to the Blagojevich re-election campaign in exchange for lucrative state contracts. Rezko was convicted of 18 counts of fraud in connection with the scheme and the governor’s name was prominently mentioned during his trial. Others involved in this scheme include Stuart Levine, a GOP mover and shaker in the state.

At least you can say we here in Illinois are bi-partisan when it comes to corruption.

While the selling of the senate seat and pay to play complaints got the most headlines, perhaps the most incredible of all the charges alleged against Blagojevich is his attempted shakedown of the Chicago Tribune.

The Trib not only owns the Chicago Tribune but also the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Owner Sam Zell (who has just filed for bankruptcy) is trying to sell the team and, more importantly, one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Chicago; Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

But the sale of Wrigley field will involve massive taxes - something on the order of $100 million dollars in capital gains. Zell had a approached the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) in order to strike a deal where, according to the criminal complaint, the IFA would take title to Wrigley Field thus saving Zell a lot of cash.

Enter Blagojevich who told his chief of staff John Harris (also arrested today) to make it clear to Zell that no help from the IFA would be forthcoming unless some members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired.

In a November 4 phone call with Harris, Blagojevich told his aide “”our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ‘em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support.”

Harris reported back on November 11 that Zell “got the message and is very sensitive to the issue.” Later, Harris told Blagojevich that there were “certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he’s (Zell) going after that section.”

No firings have taken place yet and it is doubtful that Zell will make a move now that this deal is in the open. I suppose he saw it as a cost of doing business and $100 million is a lot of cash. But the thought that he would buckle to the whims of this strutting peacock of a politician who wanted journalists who were only doing the job they were being paid to do axed because they were telling the truth about his corruption stinks of rank cowardice.

No doubt over the next few days many aspects of this story will be fleshed out. We will almost certainly be treated to some fancy footwork by the Obama team as they seek to avoid the appearance that anyone connected with the new president came within a country mile of Blagojevich. That may be difficult to do what with the taped conversation between the governor and “Advisor B” and unanswered questions about whether Obama actually discussed the appointment of a new senator with the governor or not.

Obama said in his statement he had no contact with Blagojevich. Unfortunately for the new president, his top aide David Axelrod told Fox News on November 23 that Obama had indeed talked with Blagojevich about the senate seat. The transition has since released a statement saying that Axelrod “misspoke” on November 23.

And I have a bridge over the Chicago River you can have for a song if you believe that one.

The chances are very good that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is far from finished. Meanwhile, the Democratic party in Illinois may be in for a very rough ride as their leader ponders his future - or lack of one - and his associates lawyer up in anticipation of legal trouble.

By: Rick Moran at 7:56 am
26 Responses to “BLAGOJEVICH: BEYOND ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ IN ILLINOIS”
  1. 1
    The Latest From Blago-Gate: President-Elect Obama Contributed To The Downfall Of Crooked Illinois Governor | THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™ Pinged With:
    9:32 am 

    [...] trying to auction off Steve-O’s vacated Senate seat. Particularly on the “Right”, some folks are going out of their way to implicate Steve-O in the Blago-gate scam. Meanwhile, the real [...]

  2. 2
    Hot Air » Blog Archive » One cheer for the Chicago Tribune for not blowing the Blago probe Pinged With:
    9:42 am 

    [...] Rick Moran writes at The American Thinker that tax money may have had Zell ready to dance to [...]

  3. 3
    funny man Said:
    10:49 am 

    Hollywood would not have come up with a story like that!
    What is it with this job? As you put it:
    “At least you can say we here in Illinois are bi-partisan when it comes to corruption”.
    Are they going to be cellmates?

  4. 4
    Gayle Miller Said:
    12:13 pm 

    If Hollywood had tried to sell this story to the public, only those of us who grew up near Illinois/Chicago (I’m from Ohio) would believe it, and even we’d have some difficulty with the concept! Good grief!

  5. 5
    Neo Said:
    1:10 pm 

    I wonder exactly what “at no time” means …

    Ill. governor meeting with Obama today
    By Carol Sowers
    Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 10:39 a.m.

    CHICAGO, ILL. — Now that Barack Obama will be moving to the White House, his seat in the U.S. Senate representing Illinois will have to be filled.
    That’s one of Obama’s first priorities today.
    He’s meeting with Governor Rod Blagojevich this afternoon in Chicago to discuss it.

    Appears Axelrod was right. Even the “gov” has the meeting on his web site.

  6. 6
    Al Czervic Said:
    1:33 pm 

    A special prosecutor is needed, now, before the highspeed Democrat turborcharged shredders kick in.

    What did Obama know, and when did he know it? Apparently a lot more than he’s willing to discuss as he’s clammed up already.

  7. 7
    michael reynolds Said:
    2:05 pm 

    Damn! I wish I’d known I could buy a Senate seat. That sounds like more fun being a writer. And the Senate has great benefits.

  8. 8
    Levi Said:
    2:46 pm 

    What did Obama know, and when did he know it? Apparently a lot more than he’s willing to discuss as he’s clammed up already.

    If you know anything about the facts of the investigation you would know it makes Obama look like a saint. He’s the one whose name Blagojevich was cursing, do you realize this?

    You guys just lost an election because your entire campaign strategy involved trying to hitch Obama to other peoples’ wagons, and its now surprise that your reacting to his Presidency the same way. Republicans simply don’t learn from their mistakes. At the end of the day, Obama turned down a bribe from someone in his own party. And he didn’t do it publicly, he didn’t make a big show out of it, he just turned it down.

    Can you not recognize how good this makes him look?

    Yes - except “Advisor B” - probably Rahmbo - heard out Blago’s rep and then made a counter offer to the bribe. And if you think lying about talking to Blago about the senate seat (”misspoke,” indeed) makes Obama look good, you’re a moron.

    ed.

  9. 9
    ODS Said:
    2:48 pm 

    Gee, Rick.

    Seems to me you’re suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome.

    Crooked is as crooked does, but w’re the jackasses for noticing.

  10. 10
    lionheart Said:
    3:12 pm 

    What distresses me most is the antipathy of the Illinois public regarding the widespread, rank corruption. Chicago politics have always been corrupt, everybody knows about it, but nobody pays (politically). The wiretaps only put flesh on well known corruption. I would be surprised if conservatives make any gains in the future in Illinois- nobody seems to care.

  11. 11
    Gayle Miller Said:
    5:07 pm 

    Here’s the deal: a crook is a crook is a crook and I don’t give a horse’s patoot whether there is an (R) or a (D) after the crook’s name. I also don’t care whether it’s a male or female crook. I don’t care if it’s a gay crook. Crooks are harmful to our nation. Our system works best when grubby greedy little hands aren’t gumming up the works. Buying elections is WRONG. I don’t care who does it. Am I the only person who sees something really off about someone spending $700 million dollars to achieve 4 years in a $400,000 per year gig?

    I’m telling you - come 2010 - throw the bums out. The Pelosi bums (Rangel, Jefferson, Hastings, et al.), the Reid bums, the Republican bums - ALL the bums. In my view, a new crop of bums might actually be non-corrupt long enough to do something worthwhile. Buying Congress one seat at a time is one thing - but buying 435 of them at one time becomes a daunting project. Or at least I hope it would be.

  12. 12
    Levi Said:
    5:28 pm 

    Yes – except “Advisor B” – probably Rahmbo – heard out Blago’s rep and then made a counter offer to the bribe.

    Have you ever heard Rahm Emmanuel described as ‘a D.C. based consultant?’ What gives you the impression that Advisor B is Rahm Emmanuel?

    And if you think lying about talking to Blago about the senate seat (“misspoke,” indeed) makes Obama look good, you’re a moron.

    Are you serious? Obama is scrambling away from the Governor just like every other politician in America. In America, when a guy like Blagojevich just totally flames out, everyone has to pretend that they’ve never had anything to do with the guy. The rush to do so can lead to some mildly embarrassing but ultimately meaningless contradictions. These are politicians we’re talking about here.

    If Obama talked to Blagojevich, what difference does it make? It isn’t illegal for him to talk to the Governor of the state he represents, or even discuss who might be tapped to replace him, is it? Fitzgerald has already cleared Obama of any wrongdoing, so what else is there? The most that anyone could say would be that we caught him telling some stupid little white lie at a press conference. What should be the punishment for that?

    Additionally, do Republicans still erupt in a blind fury when someone accuses George Bush of lying about the Iraq war? Just some perspective.

  13. 13
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    10:35 pm 

    Levi,
    You need to learn to relax.. Your palpitations are palpable.

    If you are so sure that Obama has done nothing wrong here, why are you so desperately trying to prove your point ? Rest in peace.

    “If Obama talked to Blagojevich, what difference does it make? It isn’t illegal for him to talk to the Governor of the state he represents, or even discuss who might be tapped to replace him, is it?”

    No one says that discussing this appointment with Balgguardovich is illegal - Obama goes so far to say that he HAS NEVER had a conversation with the Governor.

    You obviously havent even glanced at the indictment. Rod is heard cursing Obama and says that he needs more than just mere “appreciation” for going along with Obama’s choice - Valerie Jarret - in fact Rod wants some thing in return.

    It is obvious that Obama knew that Rod was asking for a bribe/favor in return/scratch my back, will scratch your’s and Obama declined - this is exactly why Valerie Jarret’s name was no longer in the running and she was immiediately appointed to another post.

    The problem here is that Obama did not notify federal authorities that he was the attempt of a political bribe. This is not illegal according to a few law experts, but it is certainly unethical. He basically was willing to allow Rod B to carry on with his pay to play politics. His Senate seat was up for sale - he knew about it and he did nothing to stop it.

    How’s that for hope and change, Levi?

  14. 14
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    10:42 pm 

    “Additionally, do Republicans still erupt in a blind fury when someone accuses George Bush of lying about the Iraq war? Just some perspective.”

    No but we are furious when there are so many ignorant fools who dont know a thing about the Iraqi Liberation act of 1998 which explicity called for regime change in Iraq. The resolution that had the support of Tom Daschle (Majority Leader), John Kerry, Chris Dodd (Presidential candidates) and Chuck Hagel(who believed in the WMD thing like many sane Senators long before Bush came to power)

    We are also furious that ignoramuses who talk about Bush “lying” about the war without recognizing that US intel was worried as well give a pass when Barack Obama “misspeaks” or lies.

    I never had a conversation with that man, Balgojevich !! Yeah, thats got tobe the goddamned truth. Let the T-shirts begin to be printed.

  15. 15
    Gayleisagash Said:
    10:44 pm 

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is entering the White House with an enormous reservoir of goodwill from an American public that is rooting for his success in the face of bad economic times, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

    The mood presents opportunities as well as perils for Mr. Obama, who confronts a series of challenges amid expectations he will handle them well.

    eat your heart out

    I’m sorry, I am going to have to ban you, youngster. This is an adult website and we only allow those over the age of 10 to participate.

    ed.

  16. 16
    obamathered Said:
    11:54 pm 

    A million dollars for that Senate seat was much too low. Hell, it probably is worth between ten and fifteen million bucks a year from contractors and others while the occupant is in the Senate and once out as a lobbyist. If I had the coin that would have been a great investment opportunity. Obama must have a brilliant scheme to rake in a personal fortune from the Oval Office since he let his Illinois cash cow go.

  17. 17
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    1:17 am 

    Levi said:

    Additionally, do Republicans still erupt in a blind fury when someone accuses George Bush of lying about the Iraq war?

    It’s sort of transitioned from blind fury to total indifference. Which is interesting because it’s exponentially more horrible than the monumental corruption of Governor Blagojevich.

  18. 18
    John Howard Said:
    5:21 am 

    Fitzgerald has already cleared Obama of any wrongdoing, so what else is there?

    The fact that Fitzgerald leaked the wiretaps just as Obama’s people were becoming more involved is rather puzzling.

  19. 19
    Surabaya Stew Said:
    8:07 am 

    After what Patrick Fitzgerald did to Scooter Libby (and by extension the Bush administration), I never thought that Republicans would ever have anything nice to say about him ever again. Judging by the reactions around the web, one would gather that the GOP was had collective amnesia about Plamegate, such is their gratefulness for the Fitz! I wonder how long before he is turned upon again?

  20. 20
    Levi Said:
    11:20 am 

    No one says that discussing this appointment with Balgguardovich is illegal – Obama goes so far to say that he HAS NEVER had a conversation with the Governor.

    Everything I need to know about you I can learn from this paragraph. It’s hardly even 48 hours and you’re already mangling the quote. How could you reasonably believe that Obama, a former state senator, U.S. Senator, and now President, NEVER had a conversation with the governor of the state he’s been representing for the past 8 years?

    Obama said he had ‘no contact’ with the governor. That statement was obviously limited to this singular issue of corruption. Of course Obama’s had conversations with Blagojevich, there are photographs of them together. You’re just totally making stuff up if you think Obama said he’s never had a conversation with the guy. Maybe you should think about this stuff some more before you start posting about it?

  21. 21
    Shelby Said:
    6:00 pm 

    It sounds like you were ahead of the power curve on this story, rick. I am seeing it all over the news now and you wrote this yesterday!

    As an outsider to IL, it’s hard to keep up with all of the different players in this scandal and how they are all interconnected, but I’ll come to your site to find out what’s happening from a true Chicago politics expert! Thank you

  22. 22
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    11:33 pm 

    Levi,
    Create straw mans if you will… but let me dumb it down to your 5th grade level… Obama never had conversations (about his replacement for the Senate) with Rod ? Capice ??

    “Obama said he had ‘no contact’ with the governor. That statement was obviously limited to this singular issue of corruption”
    Bwahahaha…. no contacts but he had conversations with Blagojevich huh ? the “contact” that he is talking about is after the elections were over. His meeting with Blagojevich has been reported

    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=83240

    David Axelrod also apoke about Obama discussing his Senate replacement with Rod on Nov 23 . he later backtracked saying he .. ahem.. misspoke

    From your logic, Obama NEVER had any conversation with Blagojevich about appointing Valerie Jarret or about the fact that he would “appreciate” if Blago did so. Did you even how Blago reacted to this “appreciation” offer ? lets just say he used a few profane words.

    You dont have knowledge of the fundamental facts of the case and you think you already know everything that there is to know about me !

    Levi,your man Obama comes from the shithole that is Chicago politics.. you have NO CLUE about how things work in the Chicago way - otherwise you’d realize that Blago was acting very normally.

    You also think that Obama never had “contacts” with Blago about his preferred replacement Valerie Jarret… this is naivete’ that no one can pull you out of.

    You also sidestepped by question about how Obama never reported Blago’s call for a bribe/political favor to the Feds. How could you ? Your man had no “contact” !!!

    how many more people have drunk the koolaid?

  23. 23
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    12:07 am 

    Levi,
    Blagojevich called Obama “a motherfucker”
    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1208/Blago_calls_Obama_motherfer.html

    hmmm.. the Governor is angry with the President elect over “candidate A”. What could that be about ?

    It is pretty obvious that Obama approached Blago about Valerie Jarret - and i have no problems with that per se.

    But it is laughable to say that he had no “contact” with the Governor - no one is talking just about him - we are talking about Obama’s staff and transition team as well - they were very much in “contact” with Blago - after hearing his request for a bribe/political favor/appointment as HHS for him and a plum post for his wife, they obviously balked.

    However, they NEVER reported this to the Feds - and that is what is really appalling - they never alerted the Feds that Blagojevich was trying to sell the Senate seat. That is unethical to put it mildly.

    The full facts of this sordid mess are yet to come out - but when they do, there is going to be more controversy for Obama. With his nonsensical denial of having had no contact with Blago about his replacement for the Senate Seat when every one knew that he favored Valerie Jarret, Obama himself has guaranteed that he either lies or… drum roll please… misspeaks

  24. 24
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    10:22 am 

    Nagarajan

    However, they NEVER reported this to the Feds…

    How are you so sure of this?

  25. 25
    Pan_theFrog Said:
    3:48 pm 

    When I first heard about this the news guy was saying that one of Obama’s aides had tipped off the Feds.

    The question is does it count as tipping off someone if they already know?

    The other day I asked a co-worker if they were going to see Movie X. They said that they were. So if it comes out 6 weeks from now that they shot 3 people while robbing a liquor store to get the money to go to the movie (it ain’t cheap to take a family of 5 out), stole a car, and drove there while drinking, does that make me a liar if I say I didn’t know of his plan? I mean, I did know of his plan to go to the movie, I just didn’t know about how he was going to get there.

  26. 26
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    9:45 pm 

    Chuck,
    Please see
    http://www.myfoxchicago.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail?contentId=8054792&version=1&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=1.1.1

    I’d like to know why exactly the Obama team has been dead silent on this issue.

    Even more importantly i’d like to know why Obama still maintains that he has had no contact with the Governor about his Senate replacement. If you believe that to be a true statement, how does it make sense that an Obama staff member tipped off the Feds ? After all, they have had no contact about the Senate seat !

    So either Obama lies about having no contact with the Governor’s office - and when i say that i dont just mean only Obama’s conversations/phone calls with the Governor, but i also mean his entire staff or any major player connected to his transition team.

    How plausible is this scenario ? Highly unlikely.

    If indeed Obama’s staff member tipped off the Feds and still remains silent about it, there is only one reason - this staff member is still co-operating with the Feds.

    And that staff member is most likely Emmanuel - even though he denies that he said anything to the Feds.

    This investigation is far from over and the refusal of Obama to answer straightforward and fundamental questions about this issue should be troubling to any one who wants a transparent Government - unfortunately this is going to end up as being another partisan issue.

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