Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Illinois governor arrested on corruption charges

This is the big political news story for today. Apparently Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges for selling President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. And there were even more corruption charges against Blagojevich. From The New York Times:

CHICAGO — Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday morning on corruption charges, including an allegation that he conspired to effectively sell President-elect Barack Obama’s seat in the United States Senate to the highest bidder.

Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, called his sole authority to name Mr. Obama’s successor “golden,” and he sought to parlay it into a job as an ambassador or secretary of health and human services, or a high-paying position at a nonprofit or an organization connected to labor unions, prosecutors said in a 76-page affidavit by the United States Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Illinois.

He also suggested, the affidavit said, that in exchange for the Senate appointment, his wife could be placed on corporate boards where she might earn as much as $150,000 a year, and he tried to gain promises of money for his campaign fund.

If Mr. Blagojevich could not secure a deal to his liking, prosecutors said, he was willing to appoint himself.

“If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” the governor said in recorded conversation, prosecutors said.

Federal authorities recorded Mr. Blagojevich speaking with advisers, fundraisers, a spokesman and a deputy governor, using listening devices placed in his office, home telephone, and a conference room at the offices of a friend, the affidavit said. In its detail, it paints a vivid picture of influence peddling and bare-knuckle politics inside the Blagojevich administration, evoking the heyday of Chicago’s political machine.

At an appearance to address climate change, Mr. Obama said he had not had any contact with Mr. Blagojevich (pronounced bluh-GOY-uh-vich) or his office, and did not know about any machinations involving the Senate seat. He said it was a “sad day” for Illinois, but declined to comment further.

The charges against Mr. Blagojevich are part of a five-year investigation into public corruption and allegations of “pay to play” deals in the clubby world of Illinois politics. In addition to the charges related to Mr. Obama’s Senate seat, they include accusations that the governor worked to gain benefits for himself, his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions.

For example, according to the affidavit, Mr. Blagojevich discussed whether he could strip a Chicago children’s hospital of $8 million in state money after a hospital executive declined to make a $50,000 contribution. He also discussed withholding state assistance from the financially struggling Tribune Company, which owns The Chicago Tribune, unless the newspaper dismissed unfriendly editorial writers.

Mr. Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, was also named in the complaint. After a brief appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Blagojevich, dressed in sport clothes and tennis shoes, was released on a $4,500 cash bond. An official at the governor’s office had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

An artist's drawing shows Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich he stands in front of U.S. Magistrate Nan Nolan (L) at the Dirksen Federal building in Chicago, Illinois December 9, 2008.
(Verna Sadock/Reuters)

At a news conference on Tuesday, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said that Mr. Blagojevich had gone on a “political corruption crime spree,” and that his actions had “taken us to a truly new low.”

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

He added that the complaint “makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever.” In one passage of the complaint, Mr. Blagojevich is quoted cursing Mr. Obama in apparent frustration that “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”

I'll be honest, there is not much else to say here, except that Blagojevich got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. And he is going to pay for that cookie with federal corruption charges. Now the big question is who will appoint a replacement for Obama's U.S. Senate seat? Under Illinois law, Blagojevich has sole authority to select a replacement for Obama's U.S. Senate seat. It certainly cannot be Blagojevich, who was arrested on corruption charges stemming from selling Obama's Senate seat. The Illinois Republican Party has called for Blagojevich to resign from his governorship. The president of the Illinois State Senate, Emil Jones, is planning to call the state senate back into session to write a law in order to schedule a special election for Obama's U.S. Senate seat. This story will be staying in the news for the rest of the holiday season.

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