Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The Friends of Governor Blagoyevich
"Be my friend, Godfather..er, I mean Governor. Make me Senator."
Cross-posted by Gary Fouse
Just a couple of days ago, I awarded the first annual Golden Penguin award for "Jerk of the Year" 2008 to John Edwards. That was premature on my part. Next time, I will wait until December 31 to announce the 2009 award. Had I known what was going to occur today, I would have saved the award for Governor (soon to be ex-Governor, hopefully) of Illinois, Rod Blagoyevich.
Let me state at the outset; Today is not a "sad day" in Illinois as many are saying. Today is just business as usual in Illinois, where their Governor, Rod Blagoyevich, has been indicted on federal corruption charges. Consider this; in the past 35 years, three Illinois governors have gone to prison for corruption; Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, and George Ryan. Now this. Just yesterday, Blagoyevich had stated that he wasn't worried about anybody listening to his telephone conversations. This morning, he was arrested at his home by the FBI. (Also arrested was his Chief of Staff, John Harris.)
It has been widely reported that Blagoyevich had been under federal investigation since 2003-2004. The governor has been suspected of selling appointments, contracts and engaging in other corrupt practices, largely through his "Friends of Governor Blagoyevich" organization. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times have reported on it as it developed. The whole Tony Rezko episode was carried out with Blagoyevich under a cloud because Rezko was the Governor's bag-man. Today's news is no surprise, especially to those in Illinois in general and Chicago in particular. The only thing this guy didn't do was buy a pennant for the Cubs (unfortunately).
The indictment, which consists of some 78 pages, outlines a host of criminal allegations against the Governor. Tony Rezko's name is mentioned often since he began singing as soon as he was convicted. (His sentencing has been postponed.)
Here are some of the allegations contained in the indictment:
That Blagoyevich tried to get the Chicago Tribune to fire its editorial staff because they had been writing critical articles about him. In exchange, the Governor offered state financial assistance to the Tribune Company in their efforts to sell Chicago's Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. (The Cubs, who are up for sale, are owned by the Tribune Company.)
That Blagoyevich was threatening the director of a children's hospital that he would rescind an 8 million dollar state grant unless he got a $50,000 "contribution".
But that was all peanuts compared to the charge which apparently necessitated the initiation of an FBI wiretap in recent weeks. It is alleged that Blagoyevich, who has the power to appoint the successor to Barack Obama's Senate seat, was, in effect, putting it up for auction to the highest bidder.
According to the tapes, there were five candidates, referred to as "Candidates 1-5". It is alleged that Blagoyevich referred to "Candidate 1" as someone (apparently a "she"-speculated to be Valerie Jarret) Obama favored to replace him. Problem was, the Obama people were not offering the Governor anything but "appreciation". This led Blagoyevich to refer to Obama as a "mother-------".
Blagoyevich apparently favored "Candidate 5", and numbers were thrown out like $500,000 in return for the nomination. (Today, there is wide speculation in Chicago that "Candidate number 5" is Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. though that has not been confirmed.)
In addition, there are several references to statements made by Blagoyevich that he intended to make money from the appointment, and that if a big enough offer was not made, he would nominate himself (which he could do).
Aside from Blagoyevich, this case is also raising questions about the Chicago Tribune and Barack Obama. Today, the Tribune, obviously embarrassed, reported that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had requested them to hold off on reporting on the case some 8 weeks ago. Tribune Editor Gerould Kern also published a statement that the newspaper had not fired any of its editorial writers (see below):
"The Chicago Tribune investigated allegations of misconduct involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich independent of the U.S. attorney's criminal probe.
As a standard practice, our reporters contact individuals involved in these stories for confirmation and comment prior to publication. Consequently, we contacted the U.S. attorney's office in the course of our reporting.
On occasion, prosecutors asked us to delay publication of stories, asserting that disclosure would jeopardize the criminal investigation. In isolated instances, we granted the requests, but other requests were refused.
The Chicago Tribune's interest in reporting the news flows from its larger obligation of citizenship in a democracy. In each case, we strive to make the right decision as reporters and as citizens. That's what we did in this case."
And Obama? US Attorney Fitzgerald stated today that nothing in the Blagoyevich complaint is connected to the President-elect. Today, Obama was asked by reporters if he had discussed his Senate replacement with Blagoyevich. He stated that he had had no recent contact with the indicted Governor. He also stated that he "was saddened and sobered" by today's events. Beyond that, Obama said that it would not be appropriate to comment any further since the matter was in the criminal justice system.
However, there is a possible contradiction to Obama's words. On November 23, his campaign chief, David Axelrod, told reporters that Obama was in contact with Blagoyevich regarding the replacement to his Senate seat. The Obama camp is now saying that Axelrod "misspoke".
What this indictment means to President-elect Obama is not yet clear. He and Blagoyevich have had a rather long association in their political careers. They have been prominent supporters of each other's candidacies. That, of course, does not incriminate Obama in any way. What is not yet known is what Tony Rezko has said about Obama to the Feds. What will Blagoyevich do now that he is facing a long prison term? Will he roll over and turn on others? Will he incriminate Obama in any way? That, of course, is mere speculation. Tonight on MSNBC's "Countdown", commentator Jonathan Alter speculated that Blagoyevich might decide to cooperate and give information on Obama to the Feds that he (Alter) termed as "lies".
I know from my own experience as a federal agent that there is only one fish bigger than the governor who he could offer up to make a deal.
It has been common knowledge ever since Tony Rezko was indicted, that Blagoyevich was sweating. I even said it on this blog. It is also common knowledge that Rezko was connected to both the Governor and Obama. None of that incriminates Obama. A lot rides on what Rezko and Blagoyevich have to say about Obama-if anything. Their words, of course, would have to be taken with great caution and be corroborated fully.
But what is important here is that when Obama takes office, it must be clear that the US Attorney's Office in Chicago be allowed to pursue this case wherever it goes. President Obama will have the power to name his own US Attorney to the post to replace Fitzpatrick. Will he do so? Will the next Attorney General support the US Attorney's Office in Chicago no matter where that investigation leads them? Or will they be ordered to cut a deal with Blagoyevich that doesn't require him to incriminate anyone else? Will the US Attorney's Office be allowed to determine who "Candidates 1-5" are (if they don't already know), and whether they attempted to buy the Senate seat being left vacant by Obama?
Could Blagoyevich, in fact, be allowed to make a deal either before trial or before sentencing-if convicted-that doesn't require him to incriminate certain other people in his corrupt career as a politician? It's possible, but it would be highly suspect.(Want an example of that? Remember John Huang, who arranged all those illegal campaign contributions for the Clinton campaign? He made a plea deal with the Reno Justice Department, got probation, paid a fine, did some community service-but never had to give up certain other people-if who know who I mean.)
I want to reiterate that there is no evidence that has come out that incriminates Barack Obama in any wrongdoing. Yet, I would bet a beer that this indictment is the first step in a major political issue that will be around quite a while. This has the potential of getting much, much bigger.
Who are "Candidates 1-5"?
Who are the "Friends of Governor Blagoyevich"?