Opinion: While Barack Obama talks, Tony Rezko sings


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While most of the media’s attention focused today on the Chicago news conference of President-elect Barack Obama announcing new Cabinet members and repeating his call for onetime ally Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign (see video above), a federal judge made a small, little-noticed legal move on another case.

More on Obama below.

Without explanation, District Judge Amy St. Eve canceled her own deadlines for lawyers to file briefs on the upcoming sentencing of Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko.

That name should sound familiar, as detailed in a Special Ticket Report the other day; he’s the Illinois political fixer, real estate man and fundraiser with close connections to Obama, Blagojevich and other Chicago political clans who is unhappy in solitary and sought to advance his sentencing to Jan. 6 on 16 federal counts of fraud, money laundering and abetting bribery. (Obama was not implicated in that trial.)


Now, why would a judge extend the period before sentencing when the convicted prisoner expressed a desire to get on with prison? Without a new briefs deadline, the expedited Jan. 6 sentencing could now be pushed back further.

Because Rezko, in the hopes of reducing his sentence, is singing in his cell about Blagojevich and maybe others. He’s not done with his song repertoire and the feds haven’t fully checked out his information to determine how grateful to be in sentence-seeking.

A footnote at the bottom of one page in the 76-page ...

... Blagojevich complaint confirms Rezko is cooperating with the FBI, news that could cause an increase in the pre-holiday consumption of Mylanta by other Chicago pols.

Rezko was known as the money man or cashier to see about state jobs through the governor’s office. He’s known Obama since the early ‘90s, tried to hire him, did hire the law firm Obama worked for, became partners with the owner of that firm, advised Obama on buying his Hyde Park home and sold him a slice of the adjacent lot.

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee but an independent who doggedly prosecuted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, went unusually out of his way in Tuesday’s Blagojevich arrest statement to specifically say that Obama was not involved in the criminal complaint over the sale of his vacant Senate sale.

This upholds Obama’s statement that he never discussed the vacancy with Blagojevich. Three times in one form or another Fitzgerald said, ‘There’s no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it.’


Note the absence there of three crucial words: ‘or his staff.’

Blagojevich was recorded complaining the Obama camp was only offering ‘appreciation,’ not money. So if Obama didn’t talk to the governor, who was expressing appreciation? And for what?

Speaking of absent, Obama’s newly designated White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, was not at today’s Cabinet announcement news conference, where he’s been a fixture until now.

He might have a cold or been alphabetizing his CD collection. More likely, Team Obama wanted no media availability for him. Obama says his staff is compiling a list of all contacts with the governor’s office for release in a few days, but he’s ‘absolutely certain’ everything was proper.

In politics, you don’t want potentially negative news dribbling out over days; you want it out all at once, ideally late on a Friday just before a holiday season, to grow old by itself in an obscure corner. (For some reason the name John Edwards immediately comes to mind.)

Emanuel would make an excellent contact. A product of the Chicago political machine, where he interned as a go-fer in the 1980s before jumping on Bill Clinton’s campaign as national finance chair and then on the White House team, he’s known by all and close to many, including Blagojevich (see photo above, Emanuel center).

Indeed, as The Ticket noted this morning in its detailed description here of how Chicago political alliances work, Emanuel inherited the Chicago North Side 5th Congressional District held by Blagojevich until he became governor in 2002, running coincidentally on a platform of reform and changing the way things are done in the state Capitol.

The seat was held previously by Dan Rostenkowski, longtime chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who went to prison on mail fraud charges.


Federal prison is also where Illinois’ last governor, the aging Republican George Ryan, resides these days. (Might he be a last-minute pardon for President Bush?) One thing that unites Illinois’ dominant Democrats and recovering Republicans is a bipartisan bitterness about feds like Fitzgerald.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press (Rezko, top); Associated Press (Blagojevich, Emanuel and unidentified man, bottom).