Opinion: The latest on charges against Gov. Rod Blagojevich
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In a sad sort of way it’s not surprising to learn with the federal arrest today of Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich that the replacement nominee for the President-elect Barack Obama‘s now-vacant U.S. Senate seat would have been the best that money could buy.
Alas, according to U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby prosecutor), the money would have gone to the Illinois governor, a former House member who appears to have been, in effect, selling the nomination.
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And even threatening to keep the job for himself if not offered enough because a Senate sinecure might enhance his stature for a presidential run in 2016.
He reportedly complained about being in a dead-end as governor.
In a brief comment, Obama called it a sad day for Illinois, but said he had no recent contact with the governor’s office. a claim seemingly contradicted by Obama’s chief political strategist last month and then retracted late today (See Update below.).
FBI agents arrested Blagojevich in his home about 6:30 a.m. Central time on the day before his 52nd birthday, apparently catching him by surprise as he ultimately appeared in court wearing sweat pants, an athletic shirt and gym shoes. The governor is in his second term after previously serving in the House from Illinois’ 5th District.
To those outside Illinois, the brazenness of the governor’s alleged politics for profit plot is stunning, offering to sell the nomination for money or plum jobs for himself and his wife, Patti. Federal authorities called it ‘a political corruption crime spree.’
According to the 76-page indictment, agents using wiretaps on ...
... the governor’s home phone and bugs in his campaign office caught the governor talking openly about the opportunity to name Obama’s successor, saying such things as, ‘I’ve got this thing and its (expletive) golden. And I’m just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I’m not gonna do it.’
He’s also accused of threatening to withhold millions in assistance to a children’s hospital without sufficient fundraising for him; with expecting fundraising in return for toll road contracts; and threatening to withhold assistance from the Tribune Co. in the sale of the Chicago Cubs ballfield unless the newspaper fired editorial board employees who’d been critical of the governor. (Tribune also owns the L.A. Times.)
All this wide-open bluster from a politician who’s known for three years he’s under federal investigation.
There is no indication of any involvement of the president-elect, who did endorse Blagojevich’s candidacy twice in the past and served as a campaign advisor in the governor’s initial 2002 campaign. Asked about today’s developments at a media briefing with former Vice President Al Gore in Chicago, Obama said:
‘I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.’
However, Jake Tapper of ABC News has reported that in a local Fox News interview on Nov. 23 Obama’s chief political strategist and new White House advisor, David Axelrod, said of his boss:
‘I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.’
Obama will no doubt be asked to clarify that apparent contradiction.
(UPDATE: In a statement released late Tuesday, Axelrod, who had declined to work on Blagojevich’s campaigns, said he was mistaken when he made that November interview statement and that his boss ‘did not then or at any time discuss the subject’ with the governor.)
As for the actual replacement for Obama, that still resides in the hands of the governor, who is out on bail. Illinois senior senator Dick Durbin called on Balgojevich to resign immediately, saying any appointment by him would not be credible.
Ironically, Blagojevich was elected as a reformer in 2003, promising to clean up the corruption scandals of the previous governor, George Ryan, a Republican now serving six years in prison.
Fitzgerald called the fast-moving case unusual. ‘We were in the middle of a corruption crime spree,’ he said. ‘And we wanted to stop it. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.’
-- Andrew Malcolm
Top photo: Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich. Credit: M. Spencer Green / Associated Press
David Axelrod. Credit: Associated Press