Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Moron Report #25: Rod Blagojevich

You are the Governor of Illinois, a state noted for political corruption (historically, one of the most corrupt states in the US, with the exception of Louisiana and New York, of course). Your party has just captured the White House. Indeed, the President-elect is from your home state. What do you do? Sell the seat, of course.

U.S. attorney: Blagojevich has taken us to 'new low'

(CNN) -- Hours after federal investigators announced they had arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff on corruption charges, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald declared Tuesday a "sad day for government."

"Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a new low," he said. "This conduct would make [Abraham] Lincoln roll over in his grave."

Fitzgerald said the government had bugged the governor's campaign office and placed a tap on his home phone.

FBI agents arrested Blagojevich, a Democrat, and his chief of staff, John Harris, without incident at around 6:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. ET) Tuesday, FBI spokesman Ross Rice told CNN.

Each was charged with a count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and a count of solicitation of bribery, authorities said.

The corruption charges were in part related to the selection of President-elect Barack Obama's successor, said the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Illinois.

The Obama transition team is aware that Blagojevich is in federal custody, but has no comment, according to a senior Democratic source.

Fitzgerald said the case required "unusual measures" because of actions Blagojevich was expected to take soon, including filling the vacant Senate seat. "There were a lot of things going on that were imminent," he said.

"We were in the middle of a corruption crime scene and we wanted to stop it," Fitzgerald said.

He said Blagojevich was looking to pull $8 million in funding for a children's hospital after the hospital's chief executive officer did not give a $50,000 contribution to the governor's campaign.

Also, Fitzgerald said, it was expected that Blagojevich would soon sign into law a bill that would direct a percentage of casino revenue to the horse racing industry -- a bill supported by someone who contributed $100,000.

"To let that bill be signed, to me, would be very, very troubling," Fitzgerald said.

One big question now is whether Blagojevich retains the right to name Obama's successor if he remains in custody or even under indictment. The answer is yes, according to Fitzgerald.

Jay Stewart, executive director of Chicago's Better Government Association, agreed. He said Blagojevich retains the right to fill the senate vacancy until he's out of office, which won't happen unless he quits or is removed from office by impeachment.

At a press conference Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said he wants the Illinois legislature to act quickly to pass a law setting a special election to fill Obama's seat, in order to prevent Blagojevich from making a tainted appointment or there being a lengthy vacancy in the Senate.

"No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement," Durbin said.

Blagojevich and Harris will appear later Tuesday in court, the attorney's office said.iReport.com: What do you think of Blagojevich's corruption charges?

In a 76-page affidavit, federal authorities say wiretaps caught Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat in exchange for financial benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

The governor also often weighed the option of appointing himself to the Senate seat, saying he was "stuck" at governor and might have access to more resources as a senator than as a governor, the affidavit says. A Senate seat could also help him remake his image ahead of a possible presidential run in 2016. "If ... they're not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it," he said in one conversation.

At times, he discussed obtaining a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit organization or an organization affiliated with labor unions, as well as placing his wife on paid corporate boards where she might make as much as $150,000 a year, the government said.

During one recorded conversation, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and said he was "financially" hurting, the affidavit said.

"I want to make money," Blagojevich said, according to the affidavit.

The intercepted phone calls also caught the the governor and Harris discussing the possibility of the Tribune Company's obtaining assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority in efforts to sell the Cubs and the financing or sale of Wrigley Field, the government said. The company owns the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs, and Wrigley Field.

Blagojevich allegedly directed Harris to tell Tribune officials that state assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board were fired. The Illinois governor saw them as "driving discussion of his possible impeachment," the affidavit said.

"Our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get 'em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support," the governor allegedly said in one phone call.

Federal authorities also allege the governor and Harris schemed with others -- including convicted real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko -- to obtain financial benefits for himself, his family and others, including his campaign committee, Friends of Blagojevich.

Reports from the Chicago Tribune last week said federal authorities were investigating the governor and were secretly taping his conversations -- with the help of his former congressional chief of staff, John Wyem.

"I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me," Blagojevich told WLS-TV in Chicago on Monday, as he responded to the reports of wiretapping. "I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me."

He added, "By the way, I should say if anyone wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it. I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me openly."

Blagojevich, who turns 52 on Wednesday, is in his second four-year term as Illinois governor. His term ends January 2011.

Before that, he served as a U.S. Congressman for Illinois' 5th district from 1997 until 2003, according to his online biography.

He and his wife have two daughters.

The state's last governor, George Ryan, was convicted in April 2006 on racketeering and fraud charges.

Ryan reported to a federal prison in Wisconsin in November 2007 to serve a 6½-year sentence. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States said it would not hear an appeal from Ryan.


I hate to sound cynical, particularly as a political scientist, but what Governor Blagojevich did is not unusual. Governors appoint replacements with the understanding of future financial benefit all of the time. Just look at the employment records of the families of the average politician, and you will see conflicts of interest in probably 90% of our elected governors and mayors in the US. What is unusual is the blatant way Blagojevich went about selling the seat, and attempting to use his political capital with such blunt words to prospects. This is not the 1920s. Most politicians are smart enough to understand that you do not tell people to give you a job or to appoint your wife to some corporate board. George Bush, Sr. never told Halliburton to hire his ex-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as its CEO. It just so happens that the executives of the company donated a lot of money to Bush Sr.'s election and reelection campaign, sat in on Cheney's energy committee meetings (the ones he refused to hand over the records for), and profited from a war Mr. Cheney help make possible.

The rule in American politics for economic-political incest is always the same. Whatever favors you perform, especially ones in which money will be exchanged, always, always will go unsaid. You do not come out and tell someone to hire you CEO of a company, so when you are elected to another office later you will (in exchange) make it possible for them to make even more money through your policies. Of course, that would be illegal. Prostitutes are not allowed to be this honest. Brothels exist for a reason--to hide all of the criminal activity from the public. For this, soon-to-be ex-Governor Blagojevich, you are now officially a moron.

And best of all, since he is a Democrat, Fox News and the Drudge Report will have something to whine about for the next few weeks, hinting at corruption in the Obama campaign ("What did he know and when did he know it?" our beloved carved up, botox-injected friends on Fox New Live will be orating), which should tie them over before January 20. It is like Murdoch's publication of Hitler's Diaries, except this is for real. Thanks, Rod.

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