Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Arrested Trying To Sell A Senate Seat
We often talk about the endemic political corruption in Louisiana and how the national Republican Party is an organized crime syndicate. Bush's compact with Republican members of Congress in 2000 was basically, "steal all you can, don't embarrass me and leave the government and the really big stuff for me." All that's true, but like we always said, corruption is nonpartisan, or, rather, bipartisan. Rahm Emanuel is certainly as corrupt as Tom Delay; there never has been any difference. And Illinois political corruption is no less heinous than the Louisiana flavor. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich-- that state's first Democratic governor in more than a generation-- won office by running as an anti-corruption reformer. That turned out to be a big joke-- on the citizens of Illinois-- really fast. The full affidavit is here. He was taken into custody today.
[L]ittle more than a year after replacing George Ryan in office in 2003, Blagojevich found his administration at the early stages of what became a host of state and federal investigations into allegations of wrongdoing involving state hiring, board appointments, contracting and fundraising that battered his tenure.
In their prosecution of Blagojevich fundraisers and allies, dubbed "Operation Board Games," federal prosecutors detailed a scheme that began only months after Blagojevich took office in which top fundraiser and adviser Antoin "Tony" Rezko conspired with longtime GOP government apparatchik Stuart Levine to split kickbacks from a state pension deal. Rezko also helped ensure Levine's reappointment to a state pension board.
As part of the investigation, in which 13 people have been indicted or convicted, kickbacks were often the prescribed price of doing high-level business, be it the pension board for state teachers or the panel that decided whether hospitals could expand their facilities. And the extortion efforts went beyond merely enriching the participants to include soliciting campaign funds for Blagojevich.
At the same time, as Blagojevich began gearing up for his 2006 re-election bid, the clouds of scandal grew deeper. U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledged federal prosecutors had spent more than a year investigating fraud in state hiring that involved "multiple state agencies" and developed "a number of credible witnesses." Federal prosecutors also were looking into a $1,500 check written to one of Blagojevich's children by the husband of a recently appointed state worker.
In the month before Blagojevich was re-elected, Rezko was indicted on corruption charges while his ally, Levine, pleaded guilty to wringing cash from firms seeking state business. Federal prosecutors also were alleging Rezko and Christopher Kelly, another top fundraiser and adviser to the governor, had been influence peddling. Kelly later was indicted on unrelated federal tax charges.
They also began investigating real estate deals by First Lady Patricia Blagojevich in which she received hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions from politically connected clients, some of whom won millions of dollars in state business.
This morning Blogojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested-- at least in part-- for trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat! The report from Federal Prosector Patrick Fitzgerald's office is absolutely shocking:
Blagojevich and Harris were arrested simultaneously at their homes at about 6:15 a.m., according to Frank Bochte of the FBI. Both were awakened in their residences and transported to FBI headquarters in Chicago.
In one charge related to the appointment of a senator to replace Barack Obama, prosecutors allege that Blagojevich sought appointment for himself as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the new Obama administration, or a lucrative job with a union, in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate.
Another charge alleges Blagojevich and Harris conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of him in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.
Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts, according to the charges.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement.
"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."
Just when I was thinking what a good job he was doing standing up for the workers at Republic Windows and Doors! He took on the predatory banksters but it looks like he was just as bad a predator as they were. And he got caught at it. This came from Fitzgerald's press release:
In the earliest intercepted conversation about the Senate seat described in the affidavit, Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A on November 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he will take it for himself: "if... they're not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it." Later that day, speaking to Advisor A, Blagojevich said: "I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain." He added later that the seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."
I just thought I'd mention, as long as we're on the topic of corruption, that when Blojojevich went to the governor's office, Rahm Emanuel was handed his Hose seat, a rotten borough that had been scheduled to be gerrymandered out of existence. That was a political payoff for having shoved NAFTA down the throats of enough reluctant Democrats to get it passed. Just mentionin'. One good outcome? we may wind up with a good Senate pick-- like Jan Schakowsky. The Lt. Governor, Pat Quinn, is a solid progressive.
UPDATE: THIS SHOULD HAVE STARTED MONTHS AGO
But it's a good idea anyway. State Representative John Fritchey, one of the dozen or so serious contenders for Blagojevich's (and Rahm Emanuel's) old House seat, claims impeachment proceedings will begin immediately. And, wisely, Durbin has called for a special election to fill Obama's Senate seat.