Illinois Gov. charged with 'selling' Obama Senate seat
Caught on FBI wiretap saying seat is 'a f*cking valuable thing'Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was unexpectedly taken into federal custody Tuesday morning on corruption charges related to his appointment of President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate.
"Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low," US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a news conference Tuesday, accusing the governor of overseeing a "political corruption crime spree."
Referring to Illinois' most famous political export, Fitzgerald said Blagojevich's exploits "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
A 76-page FBI affidavit reveals a scheming and rather profane Blagojevich (he dropped variations of "fuck" 18 times in the conversations detailed) who was consumed with using his ability to fill Obama's seat to advance his own goals. Blagojevich is furious at his apparent inability to squeeze any perks from the president elect.
The affidavit recounts a Nov. 10 phone call where the governor tells his chief of staff and other aidesthat he had been told to "'suck it up' for two years and give this "motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.'"
Fitzgerald announced the details of the charges in a press release (pdf) Tuesday morning.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," the federal prosecutor said. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions."
The FBI arrested Blagojevich, a Democrat, and his chief of staff, John Harris, on charges alleging that the governor essentially attempted to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat.
A wiretap on Nov. 3 recorded the governor exclaiming to an advisor that the seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you don't just give it away for nothing."
Obama cancels FBI meetingAccording to an FBI affidavit, Blagojevich discussed with a deputy the possibility of obtaining a cabinet position in the Obama administration, such as Secretary of Health & Human Services or Energy, or of being appointed as an ambassador. Blagojevich also reportedly sought a high-paying position with a union-affiliated group or a nonprofit in exchange for the Senate appointment.
"I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect, whatsoever," Fitzgerald said in a press conference Tuesday.
It's unclear whether any transition associates were in any of these discussions, but Obama and Blagojevich are not close and there are indications that some representatives of the president-elect's team refused to play ball.
Blagojevich reportedly told Harris on Nov. 11 that he knew Obama's team wanted a particular candidate to be appointed to fill the seat. But, he said, "They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them."
Obama had been scheduled to meet with the Chicago FBI Tuesday morning before proceeding to a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, but that meeting with the FBI was suddenly canceled, according to a pool report. It's unclear whether the meeting or its cancellation was related to the governor's arrest.
Obama and Gore are expected to appear for a brief photo-opportunity following their sit-down this afternoon.
Blagojevich also allegedly tried to get members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board who had criticized him fired. The two were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud along with solicitation of bribery.
Both Blagojevich and Harris are expected in court later Tuesday.
A 78-page FBI affidavit (pdf) outlines the benefits Blagojevich discussed soliciting when he was captured on wiretaps in the course of the investigation, which came as part of Operation Board Games, a five-year public corruption probe of pay-to-play schemes in Illinois.
According to Fitzgerald's press release:
At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:The Chicago Tribune, which first reported Blagojevhich's arrest, documented the expansion of a three-year pay-for-play probe aimed at the governor. The paper reported that the probe was focusing on appointing Obama's successor and that some Blagojevich associates were wearing wires in cooperation with the probe.
>a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;
>placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;
>promises of campaign funds – including cash up front; and
>a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
The governor, who has made headlines in recent days for cutting off Bank of America on behalf of laid off workers conducting a sit-in, disputed allegations of corruption when he spoke to reporters Monday at the Republic Window & Doors plant in Chicago. The arrest appeared to be unreleated to Blagojevich's intervention on behalf of the workers.
More details are expected to emerge at a noon press conference and throughout the day.
This video is from CNN.com, broadcast Dec. 9, 2008.
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