They showed up at
's home before the sun.
By daylight, federal agents had arrested and handcuffed the governor, throwing him -- and all of
-- into one of the most momentous and absurd times in the state's sordid political history.It's been nearly a year since Dec. 9, 2008, when then-Gov. Blagojevich was roused from his bed and hit with an array of criminal charges that included the extraordinary accusation he tried to sell the
seat vacated when
was elected president.
But after weeks of banner headlines that would have exhausted a lesser scandal, the Blagojevich story remains in the limelight -- thanks largely to the ex-governor's incessant pursuit of publicity.
Instead of hiding behind the shame of an indictment, impeachment and ouster from office -- and keeping his mouth shut before trial like so many politicians before him -- Blagojevich has done the opposite. He's made two national tours to proclaim his innocence. He's released a book. He's hosted radio talk shows.
The glib, camera-loving
Democrat has seemed remarkably unfazed throughout it all, while Illinoisans and observers around the country have watched a story that spans from the scandalous to the surreal.
In late January, Blagojevich was making an impassioned but fruitless speech to save his job before state lawmakers, who made him the first governor impeached and banned from Illinois public office for life. Days later, he was fulfilling a dream of bantering with the host on "The Late Show with
"Well, you know, I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time," Blagojevich told Letterman.
"Well, you're on in the worst way," Letterman deadpanned. "Believe me."
In the ensuing months, Blagojevich performed a song by his hero Elvis at a block party and joked about female anatomy with shock jock Howard Stern. He sent his wife to
to eat bugs in a jungle-based reality show and secured his own spot as a contestant on the spring edition of
's TV show "Celebrity Apprentice."
That came with a warning from a federal judge to watch what he says lest he prejudice his own criminal case. But some observers have suggested that the ex-governor's effort to transform his image from disgraced politician to celebrity is a conversion that could help him with a jury pool in his trial scheduled for mid-2010.
definitely would prefer he keep quiet. While Blagojevich prepares for what could be a months-long trial in the middle of statewide elections, they will be trying to hold on to the job he lost and the Senate seat he's accused of peddling.
It wasn't long ago that Democrats, led by Blagojevich, were gleefully reminding voters about the corruption scandal of Republican ex-Gov.
, who now sits in federal prison. Now they're the ones who fear a backlash at the ballot box.
hold statewide office or control either chamber of the General Assembly, it was only a scant 15 years ago when the reverse was true, a stark reminder that voters are fickle and allegiances can change fast.
"I think a big question will be what message does the electorate collectively send in these two elections we have in 2010," said Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor who led the corruption case against Ryan and chaired the reform commission created by
after Blagojevich's ouster. Voters should demand a "core level of integrity in all of their public officials," Collins said.
Democrats who rallied around Blagojevich's reformer image in 2002 and stuck with him amid the early signs of scandal in 2006 have scrambled to take the lead in ousting the governor and trying to scrub the capital clean. Republicans have led the criticism that it's too little and too late for a ruling party that looked the other way for political gain.
Since Blagojevich's arrest, the trickle of details about the alleged corruption has become a steady stream as his two former chiefs of staff have both pleaded guilty and agreed to testify about schemes in which they allege the governor and his allies sought to trade government favors for personal gain -- everything from legislation to help racetracks to state funding for a children's hospital.
Blagojevich's top fundraiser,
, facing pressure from prosecutors to cooperate against his longtime friend, died days before he was to begin serving an eight-year sentence on unrelated corruption charges. Authorities ruled the death a suicide, saying Kelly overdosed on pills.
In October, one of Blagojevich's closest friends and advisers, Alonzo Monk, said in a plea agreement that he, Blagojevich, and fundraisers
and Kelly met repeatedly to talk about lucrative schemes with the idea they could split the money later.
Monk's successor, John Harris, alleged that Blagojevich viewed the Senate seat vacated by Obama as a bargaining chip that could be exchanged for money or a job.
The Senate allegation turned the Blagojevich scandal into worldwide news and became its own subplot when Blagojevich defied Democrats from Springfield to
to the Senate seat.
Burris promised the public he didn't do anything untoward to get the seat and demanded that reluctant Democrats let him into the Senate. But his story slowly changed and last month a Senate Ethics panel admonished him for having provided "incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information to the public" and others about his contacts with Blagojevich allies leading up to the appointment.
The white-hot nature of the Senate charges overshadowed years of federal investigation into allegations that the governor's aides and money men violated state hiring laws to pad the payroll with cronies, sold government appointments for campaign donations and extorted bribes through their control of state pension and hospital boards. Along the way, Blagojevich's bombastic battles with fellow Democrats who control the Statehouse resulted in a dysfunctional government that veered deeper into debt during his six years in office.
Reform groups seized on Blagojevich's ouster to push for ethics reforms, as did his successor, Quinn, who wants voters to elect him to the job next year. But the good government groups themselves acknowledged they couldn't get as much reform as they wanted.
Blagojevich has argued that he is still the true reformer, an outsider who was framed by a corrupt political system. He and his attorneys have argued to make public all of the phone conversations that the government secretly recorded as he talked with friends and advisers, not just the excerpts that have been used against him.
A judge has ordered the recordings sealed to the public. But federal prosecutors have turned over the recordings -- and more than a million pages of evidence compiled in the five-year investigation -- to the ex-governor's defense attorney.
That led to the latest twist in a story that won't go away.
On Friday, Blagojevich's lawyers reported to police that their law offices had been burglarized. Among the missing property are the computers containing the Blagojevich recordings.
- - -
A year of fame and infamy
It's probably safe to say that no one has ever had a year quite like Rod Blagojevich. Starting with his early-morning arrest on federal corruption charges one year ago, Blagojevich has been impeached, indicted and become a household name thanks in part to a series of high profile -- and occasionally comic -- public appearances.
DEC. 9, 2008: At 6:15 a.m., Gov. Rod Blagojevich is arrested at his home on charges that include attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama. The governor's chief of staff, John Harris, is also arrested.
"I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."
-- Blagojevich, in his first news conference, about the allegations against him, Dec. 19
DEC. 30: Despite threats from Senate Democrats not to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, the embattled governor appoints former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris for the post. Burris is eventually seated anyway.
JAN. 9, 2009: The Illinois House votes 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, the first time an Illinois governor has been impeached. Afterward, Blagojevich holds a news conference at which he defends his record as governor.
JAN. 29: Appearing before the state Senate, Blagojevich asserts his innocence, saying he "never, ever intended to violate the law." The Senate votes 59-0 to remove him from office. Later that day, Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn is sworn in as governor.
APRIL 2: Federal grand jury indicts Blagojevich on 16 counts, including racketeering, fraud and extortion. Also indicted are Blagojevich's close friend and fundraiser Christopher Kelly, Harris and another former chief of staff, Alonzo Monk.
"I want to say this to the people of Illinois: I have not let them down."
-- Blagojevich, after pleading not guilty at his arraignment, April 14
JULY 8: Harris pleads guilty to taking part in a scheme to use Obama's Senate seat as leverage for Blagojevich and agrees to testify against the former governor.
SEPT. 12: Days before he was to begin serving an 8-year sentence on federal corruption charges, Kelly dies from an overdose of pain medication in what is later ruled a suicide.
OCT. 20: Monk pleads guilty to taking part in the shakedown of a racetrack owner for campaign contributions. He agrees to testify against Blagojevich.
JAN. 26, 2009: Blagojevich begins a media blitz to proclaim his innocence. In one day he appears on "The View," "Good Morning America," "Nightline," "Larry King Live" and
"I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way."
-- Blagojevich, to David Letterman on the "Late Show," Feb. 3
"Well, you're on in the worst way."
-- Letterman's response
APRIL 21: A federal judge denies Blagojevich's request to leave the country to appear on the reality TV show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" taping in Costa Rica.
MAY 21: During an appearance on
show, the Blagojeviches announce that former first lady Patti will participate in the jungle-based reality show as a means to support her husband's legal defense.
JUNE 13: Rod Blagojevich makes a guest appearance onstage at the Second City performance of "Rod Blagojevich Superstar."
JUNE 23: Despite a successful run competing against celebrities such as
and Lou Diamond Philips, Patti is voted off the reality show by viewers.
AUG. 7: The former governor appears at a Streeterville block party to sing the Elvis song, "Treat Me Nice."
SEPT. 8: "The Governor," Rod Blagojevich's 259-page political memoir, hits bookstores. In it he describes himself as the victim of a political conspiracy and a tragic figure, comparing himself to everyone from King Lear to George Bailey from "
." He again goes on a media blitz.
"I want to believe you. ... You're a charming dude with the best head of hair I've ever (bleeping) seen. ... But it's hard to believe."
to Blagojevich during an interview to promote the former governor's book, Sept. 24
OCT. 19: A federal judge signs off on Rod Blagojevich appearing on the reality show "Celebrity Apprentice" with Donald Trump.