Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Suspends State Business with Bank of America and Is Then Promptly Arrested by the FBI on Corruption ChargesDecember 9th, 2008
Less than 24 hours later… Whamo.
I’m not saying that the guy isn’t a crook. He could be as crooked as the day is long. The timing of his arrest, however, is priceless.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on criminal charges on Tuesday, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Democrat President-elect Barack Obama, federal prosecutors said.
Blagojevich was also accused of threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of the Chicago Cubs’ baseball home Wrigley Field “to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical” of him.
The 51-year-old Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were charged in a 76-page federal indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. Both were taken into custody at their homes in Chicago.
In Illinois, the governor selects a successor when there is a mid-term Senate vacancy. Obama resigned from the Senate soon after winning the Nov. 4 presidential election.
Blagojevich allegedly was caught on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month.
He was seeking a “substantial” salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or union affiliated organization, a spot on a corporate board for his wife, promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice, the FBI affidavit added.
Blagojevich, in his second term, is the latest in a string of Illinois governors to run afoul of the law. His immediate predecessor. George Ryan, is in jail following a federal corruption conviction.
“Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics,” Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a statement.
“Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low.”
Grant and Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, will detail the charges in a news conference at 11 a.m. CDT (1700 GMT) in Chicago.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.
A three-year federal corruption investigation of pay-to-play politics in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration has expanded to include his impending selection of a new U.S. senator to succeed President-elect Barack Obama, the Tribune has learned.
Federal authorities got approval from a judge before the November general election to secretly record the governor, sources told the Tribune, and among their concerns was whether the selection process might be tainted. That possibility has become a focus in an intensifying investigation that has included recordings of the governor and the cooperation of one of his closest friends.
The governor has not been accused of any wrongdoing. The specific contents of the recent recordings have not been disclosed. Blagojevich has said the appointment of a Senate successor, which is his choice alone, could come in a matter of weeks.
Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since the Tribune revealed federal investigators had recorded him and others as part of their corruption probe, Blagojevich said his discussions were “always lawful.” He also defended close confidant John Wyma, whose cooperation with federal agents helped lead to the recordings, as “an honest person who’s conducted himself in an honest way.”
“I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it,” he said. “I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me openly and notoriously, and those who feel like they want to sneakily, and wear taping devices, I would remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate.”
Unlike the recordings that the federal government has of Blagojevich, the tapes that led to President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation over the burglary of Democratic offices at the Watergate complex and the ensuing coverup were made by Nixon himself.
Regardless of “whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful and the things I’m interested in are always lawful,” Blagojevich said. “And if there are any things out there like that, what you’ll hear is a governor who tirelessly and endlessly figures out ways to help average, ordinary working people.”
Blagojevich’s comments came amid increasing concern by Democrats that the governor’s pending appointment of a Senate successor may become politically tainted as a result of the investigations surrounding his administration. Federal investigators have been looking into allegations of corruption regarding state jobs, appointments and contracts in connection with Blagojevich’s prolific fundraising.
Blagojevich has not been charged with any wrongdoing and contended that if federal investigators are?s “going to those lengths and extents [of obtaining recordings], if in fact that’s true, that would suggest all the past has been pretty good.”
“I don’t believe there’s any cloud that hangs over me. I think there’s nothing but sunshine hanging over me,” the governor said.
Blagojevich made the remarks at a Monday morning visit to laid-off workers staging a sit-in at the Republic Windows & Doors plant on Goose Island.
Later Monday, he met for 90 minutes with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the South Side and southwest suburban congressman who has been the most visibly active campaigner for the appointment to replace Obama. Jackson, who was among the last high-profile Senate successor candidates to speak with Blagojevich, has had disagreements with the governor and is not close to him.
Blagojevich issued a strong defense of Wyma and accused the Tribune of publishing misinformation and possibly defamatory material.
“To begin with, they didn’t get it right,” he said. “John Wyma’s lawyer put out a statement. The Tribune was wrong and very well may have defamed him.”
But the statement from Wyma’s lawyer did not directly address the Tribune story and instead appeared directed at media outlets and others who reported Wyma wore a wire.
The Tribune noted that Wyma’s cooperation with federal investigators helped lead to recordings of Blagojevich but did not report that he wore a wire.
Wyma’s lawyer also did not respond to the Tribune’s report that Wyma was cooperating with investigators. “John Wyma is a friend of mine, he was my chief of staff, and I’m sure whatever he does, he does ethically and follows the rules,” the governor said.
Blagojevich said he would not remove Wyma from his inner circle of advisers. He also told the Tribune that Wyma was not involved in the deliberations over an Obama successor. “No, I consider him a friend. and I don’t consider him as anything but a friend. And to someone who, as I’ve known him, always has been an honest person who’s conducted himself in an honest way,” Blagojevich said of Wyma. “That’s the John Wyma I know and it’s the John Wyma that [Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rep.] Rahm Emanuel knows and a lot of other people know.”
Blagojevich said he had last spoken to Wyma the day before Thanksgiving, when he offered holiday wishes and “talked a little bit about the plight of the Detroit Lions. He’s from Michigan.”
And the governor indicated he was not concerned about Wyma cooperating with federal investigators. “Look, I believe everybody should just tell the truth and pursue the truth and be truthful and then you do that and everything’s fine,” he said.
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